Nov. 20, 2011
WACO, Texas (AP) - Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was already prepared that 6-foot-8 Baylor phenom Brittney Griner would probably have her way inside against the Irish.
Griner did just that, scoring 32 points with 14 rebounds and six blocked shots. The problem was she wasn't alone for the top-ranked Lady Bears.
Point guard Odyssey Sims had one of her best overall games and Destiny Williams also had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds for Baylor in a 94-81 victory over Notre Dame in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the preseason WNIT championship game Sunday.
"The game was particularly disappointing because defensively we really played poorly," McGraw said. "We tried a couple of different looks on (Griner), but it didn't really matter. ... I was disappointed with the way we guarded the other players."
Griner and Baylor (4-0) have clearly established themselves as the No. 1 team - for now.
Notre Dame (3-1) has some work to do.
"We didn't play the kind of defense that we hope to play this year," McGraw said. "It was a good learning experience. ... It's great that it's in November, and we can look ahead to what we want to be, and know that we're not there now. I think we have that promise, and we have that vision of our team moving forward, but really disappointed with the loss today."
But long before being the NCAA runner-up last season, Notre Dame lost an early-season game at Baylor.
Notre Dame had a pair of 25-point scorers in the same game for the first time since 2000. Natalie Novosel scored a career-high 28 points and Skylar Diggins, like Griner a preseason AP All-America pick, had 27.
Sims has 25 points, six assists, six steals and only two turnovers in 38 minutes after she wasn't in the starting lineup for a reason that coach Kim Mulkey wouldn't specify - or allow Sims to address.
The Lady Bears put the game away with a 14-3 run that was capped when Sims had a steal that she turned into a breakaway layup for a 70-58 lead with 9 1/2 minutes left.
"Just motivated altogether," Sims said. "Playing against (Diggins), playing against the team, playing in front of the crowd, No. 1 versus No. 2. All of that put together."
There was then a feisty play with 1:40 left after Diggins, a preseason AP All-America pick like Griner, lost her dribble.
When Diggins tried to recover the ball from the floor, she had her arm unintentionally around Sims' neck. Sims jumped up clearly angry, then went to the sideline where Mulkey gave her a quick hug to try to settle her down. But Sims was assessed a technical foul.
Diggins and Sims were teammates on USA Basketball World University Games gold medal-winning team in China this summer. Notre Dame's Novosel and Devereaux Peters were also on that team.
"Odyssey is a very competitive player just like I am, and she was a teammate of mine. I don't think it was anything personal," Diggins said. "I think it's just both of us playing hard. ... Just a loose ball, you try to get it."
Sims agreed, and said she wished Diggins "the best the rest of the season."
They could meet again in March - or April.
The Lady Bears still have two more huge tests before Christmas and their always tough Big 12 schedule after that. They play at No. 3 Tennessee next Sunday and host No. 4 UConn on Dec. 18.
It was Baylor's second 1 vs. 2 game, but its first as the No. 1 team after losing 65-64 at top-ranked UConn last November. The Irish were in their third such game, the previous two coming against the Huskies in 2001, when Notre Dame won as the No. 2 team and then lost as the No. 1 team.
This was the 47th women's basketball 1 vs. 2 game. UConn had played in 14 of the past 19 since 1999, winning 12 of them. The Huskies were the No. 1 team, and the winner, in each of the previous five.
Kayla McBride, who had 11 points for the Irish, made two free throws with 15:48 left to cap a 15-6 run that cut the deficit to 53-51. Baylor's game-clinching spurt came a couple of minutes later.
Notre Dame had an early 10-6 lead after Brittany Mallory went around Griner for a reverse layup.
After Griner and Diggins traded baskets, Sims hit a 3-pointer, and Griner had a defensive rebound and the Lady Bears got the first lead when Sims passed to Destiny Williams for a 13-12 lead with 12:53 left in the first half.
That was during a furious pace when the game's first stop in action didn't come until McGraw finally called a timeout with 11:33 left after a putback by Williams for a 17-14 Baylor lead. The first two media timeouts were caught up over the next 30 seconds.
Baylor led 47-36 at halftime, that close only after Novosel hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer after the Irish had missed their first 11 shots from long range.
"It was a great test for us," Novosel said about the matchup. "We know now we're not where we need to be, and we're going to move forward and learn some things."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame finished the Preseason WNIT with a record-setting 78 steals, easily smashing the old mark of 58 steals set by Rutgers in 1998 ... the Fighting Irish lost for only the fourth time in their last 33 regular-season tournament games, with three of those four defeats coming away from home in the Preseason WNIT against opponents ranked in the top three (also 72-59 vs. Tennessee in 1996 semifinals at Ruston, La.; 75-59 at Maryland in 2007 semifinals) ... the Fighting Irish are 1-2 all-time in "1-vs-2" matchups, having previously split a pair of contests with Connecticut in 2000-01 (lost to #2 UConn, 78-76 in BIG EAST final; won 90-75 vs. #1 UConn in NCAA national semifinals at St. Louis) ... Notre Dame falls to 8-9 against the current Big 12 Conference alignment, with its last five losses to Big 12 teams coming by 13 points or fewer ... the BIG EAST Conference now is 4-4 all-time in Preseason WNIT title games, with Notre Dame going 1-1 in those contests (the Fighting Irish won the 2004 championship, 66-62 over No. 10/9 Ohio State) ... the home team now has won 10 of the past 11 Preseason WNIT championship games, with the lone exception coming in 2006 (Purdue won 69-55 at Baylor) ... Notre Dame had two players score at least 25 points in the same game for the first time since Feb. 19, 2000, when Alicia Ratay and Ruth Riley each scored 26 points in a 78-74 overtime win at Rutgers ... Notre Dame's 81 points tied for the 10th-most points scored in a loss in school history, and most by the Fighting Irish in a regulation defeat since Dec. 8, 1998 (a 106-81 loss to Connecticut); Notre Dame did fall to UCLA, 86-83 in double overtime last season (Nov. 18, 2010) at Purcell Pavilion ... for only the sixth time in 162 games since joining the BIG EAST Conference 17 seasons ago (1995-96), and only the second time in 35 games during the past three seasons (2009-10 to present), Notre Dame lost when scoring at least 80 points ... the Fighting Irish were whistled for 30 fouls, tying for ninth-most in school history, and most in a regulation game since Dec. 8, 1997, when they were called for 32 fouls at Wisconsin (Notre Dame committed 33 fouls in an overtime game at South Florida on Jan. 13, 2007) ... Baylor's 52 rebounds were the most by a Notre Dame opponent since Feb. 10, 2008, when Pittsburgh had 56 rebounds ... the Lady Bears were also the first Fighting Irish opponent with two 25-point scorers in the same game since Nov. 26, 2009, when San Diego State also had a 32-point scorer (Jene Morris) and a 25-point scorer (Quenese Davis), but Notre Dame beat the Aztecs, 84-79, at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands ... senior guard Natalie Novosel scored a career-high 28 points, one more than her previous high set on Dec. 29, 2010, against Gonzaga at the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle ... Novosel's 15 free throw attempts tied for eighth in school history, and were the most by a Fighting Irish player in a single game since Jan. 25, 2003, when Courtney LaVere went 12-for-16 from the line at Villanova ... Novosel also moved up to 26th on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 1,049 points, passing Mollie Peirick (1,034 points from 1994-98) ... junior guard Skylar Diggins jumped two places into 21st place on the school's all-time scoring chart with 1,153 points, passing former teammate Becca Bruszewski (1,148 points from 2007-11) and LaVere (1,150 from 2002-06) ... Novosel and Diggins represented Notre Dame on the Preseason WNIT All-Tournament Team, joining Katryna Gaither (1996), Jacqueline Batteast (2004 - MVP), Megan Duffy (2004) and Charel Allen (2007) as Fighting Irish players to earn that honor ... Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw coached the 900th game of her 30-year career on Sunday, now holding a 647-253 (.719) record.