Baylor center Brittney Griner is the best player in women’s college basketball. There is no doubt about this, but in an extremely competitive NCAA tournament field, she will have to commit herself to rebounding in order to lead her team to another national championship.
Griner’s unique physical talents have forever altered the women's game. No player has ever been able to dominate the low post like she has.
She is simply impossible to guard when she gets the ball in a favorable position, and her 24.1 points per game this season ranks third in the nation. But her impact on the defensive end of the floor is even more dramatic, and her 4.2 blocks per game is the second-best mark in the country.
However, one thing she hasn’t done consistently across her career is rebound at an elite level. She is no slouch on the boards, and is grabbing an average of 9.4 rebounds per game, but that places her 65th in the nation in this category. She has never averaged double-digit boards across a season during her Baylor career.
Griner has a Wilt Chamberlain-like physical advantage over her competition, and when she dedicates herself to dominating the boards, the results are spectacular.
She proved this conclusively in her last-ever home game against Florida State on Tuesday when she grabbed 22 rebounds to go with her 33 points. Only seven of her boards were on the offensive end, meaning she cleaned up an impressive percentage of the Seminoles' missed shots.
This is the type of rebounding performance that Griner will need to repeat going forward.
There have only been two games this season in which the Lady Bears have been tested, with every other contest ending in a victory by a double-digit margin. The first came in a loss to Stanford and the next was a narrow victory over Connecticut.
In both these games, Griner was able to put up over 20 points, but her presence in the paint was limited. She was held to single-digit rebounds and blocked just three total shots in the two contests.
When Griner fails to establish herself down low on the defensive end of the floor, her rebounding and blocked-shot numbers drop. If she does not play big down low against the other top seeds in the tournament, Baylor will be vulnerable.
The Lady Bears are far too talented to lose before New Orleans. But once in the Final Four, Stanford is their likely semifinal opponent, with UConn and Notre Dame having the best chance to play them in the finals.
These teams will be doing everything possible to push and pull Griner away from the basket on defense, but she will have to stay tough and disciplined. If she rebounds like she did against Florida State for the remainder of the tournament, no one will stop Baylor on its road to another national title.