THE ROAD TO DENVER
Even if you come up with something creative to simulate playing against 6'8" All-America junior center Brittney Griner, here is the painful truth for opponents of unbeaten Baylor: You can't get close to the real thing. Sure, you might be able to approximate Griner's height—one team rolled a 7-foot mannequin (a.k.a. the Silent Player) onto the court in practice—but then you must also evoke her baseline-to-baseline speed, her 88-inch wingspan, her deft footwork, her exceptional timing, her steadfast resolve and her sure hands. Not to mention the psychological impact of Griner's epic shot blocking, which daunts even stouthearted scorers while inspiring the rest of the Lady Bears to apply intense pressure and gamble in the passing lanes. "It's like in football," says Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson. "Receivers hear the footsteps in the middle of the field before they catch the ball because they know the hit is coming. It's the same thing with Griner on the defensive end."
She's so disruptive that it's even hard for her own team to prepare. Visits to the film room have become almost useless for Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey. "I can't go sit in and say, O.K., here is what they do, because then when they play us, it's two or three on Griner," Mulkey says. "You just prepare for everything you've seen in the past."
And baiting Griner into foul trouble isn't much of an option: She averaged just 2.0 personals this season and has fouled out only once in her career. So how have teams attempted to solve the Griner conundrum? What follows is how five schools prepared for her—and how Griner foiled all that preparation. Baylor junior forward Destiny Williams offers the only real solution: "I'd rather play with her than against her."