Phoenix Rising: 6'8 Griner Doesn't Appear to Phase UW-Green Bay

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The UW-Green Bay Phoenix have won 90 games over three seasons, and now, the #5 seed (34-1) will face top-seeded Baylor (33-2) in Sunday's Dallas Regional Sweet 16 at American Airlines Center. Baylor, on the strength of sophomore hoops sensation Brittany Griner, ranked #3 all year behind UConn and Stanford and poses a formidable challenge to the mid-major Green Bay Phoenix.

Like the Georgetown Hoyas facing UConn, the Horizon League champion UW-Green Bay is remarkably confident in their abilities to topple the major-market Big 12 Baylor University.

"We expected to be in this game," said Green Bay head coach Matt Bollant. "We're excited to be here. It's been a really fun ride and we're hoping it's going to go on for a while."

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Bollant may have a point. As Green Bay's news release points out, the contest will feature two of the best defensive teams in the country. In scoring defense, the Phoenix allows 52.2 points per game and Baylor allows 53.4 points per game to rank seventh and 13th in the country. Baylor's opponents shoot just 26.2 percent from the three-point line compared to 26.6 percent by Green Bay's foes, with the teams ranking seventh and ninth, respectively.

And they have knocked over the Big 10 conference to get here. Green Bay advanced to their first Sweet 16 appearance with a 65-56 win over fourth-seeded Michigan State in the second round. Co-Horizon League Player of the Year Kayla Tetschlag posted consecutive double-doubles in first and second round play, averaging 17.0 points and 11.5 rebounds per contest.

Baylor advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third-consecutive season with its 82-68 victory over ninth-seeded West Virginia. Sophomore Brittney Griner led the Lady Bears with a game-high 30 points while freshman Odyssey Sims and senior Melissa Jones each chipped in 13 and Destiny Williams added 10 while grabbing 10 boards.

The team is led by one of the most intense coaches in the NCAA, Kim Mulkey. She reminds me of a younger Pat Summitt--emotional, expressive under pressure, and grinding. Baylor went to the Final Four last year, and her young squad has only improved. Watch for a spirited, emotional game, with Griner again reaching 30 points.

My prediction: Baylor over UW-Green Bay, 80-65 

Not to be forgotten in this round are the Georgia Bulldogs taking on Texas A&M Aggies in the Dallas Regional. I agree with ESPN columnists Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays that the Aggies  will be preoccupied with trying to contain Jasmine James, a sophomore guard who leads Georgia with 12.3 points per game. That said, the Bulldogs have to tangle with an Aggies attack led by senior Danielle Adams (22.7 ppg). Tyra White (13.7) and Sydney Carter (10.3) also average in double-figure scoring for Texas A&M. Texas A&M is known for its defense, but the Aggies have become a much better offensive team in recent years. This season, they average 78.6 ppg, while Georgia is at 64.4.

My prediction: Texas A&M over Georgia, 55-47

 

NOTES FROM SATURDAY'S GAMES:

UConn's collective firepower eventually proved too much for the Georgetown Hoyas, who lost by significantly less than I predicted, 68-63. UConn will face Duke, who defeated DePaul today for the Philadelphia Regional championship.  

Tennessee defeated Ohio State University 85-75. Notre Dame beat Oklahoma 78-53. Tennessee and Notre Dame face each other on Monday night.

#11 seed Gonzaga, as predicted, beat Louisville, 76-69, and will face #1 seed Stanford, who beat the UNC Tar Heels 72-65.

 

 

 

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