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Tuesday March 20, 2012Gators Face Tallest Task of Season against Griner, No. 1-Ranked Baylor for Berth in Sweet 16

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – They know who she is. It’s nearly impossible not to considering her skyscraper presence and No. 1-ranked Baylor’s perfect record.

“They’re on ESPN it seems like once a week,’’ Gators senior guard Jordan Jones said.

Brittney Griner has that it factor that makes people stop and stare when she walks by. Yes, she has heard the “how is the weather up there?” question more than she can remember.

When the Bears arrived here at the Stroh Center on Monday to practice for Tuesday night’s showdown with the Gators for a berth in the Sweet 16, Griner’s teammates had plenty of room to spare as they walked through a doorway toward their locker room.

The space above Griner’s head shrunk considerably when the 6-foot-8 center stepped through the entry way. When Griner steps onto the court Tuesday against the Gators, she’ll a 4-inch height advantage over Gators center Azania Stewart.

It’s almost always like that for Griner, the only player in NCAA women’s basketball history to score 2,000 career points and block 500 shots. The junior center is averaging 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and national-best 5.1 blocked shots per game.

There’s really no stopping Griner, but the Gators spent much of Monday working on ways to neutralize her effectiveness.

“She is very mobile for a big player,’’ Stewart said. “I’m confident and ready. You have to be aggressive. You can’t go in there timid at all.”

To help Stewart and forward Jennifer George prepare defensively, Gators assistants Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick and Murriel Page spent much of Monday’s practice with arms raised high and taking passes on the lower blocks.

In this matchup, it will be about positioning and using every trick you know as much as anything else.

Page can relate to the Gators’ challenge.

She spent 11 seasons in the WNBA from 1998-2008, the same career span for the late Margo Dydek. The two were teammates on the Los Angeles Sparks in their final seasons in the league.

While Griner can appear like one of those towering live oaks around UF’s campus with branches everywhere, Dydek was more like the Empire State Building. The 7-foot-2 native of Poland was the world’s tallest female athlete during her playing career and is the WNBA’s all-time career blocks leader.

Still, Page found a way here and there to make Dydek disappear.

“When you have a player that size you obviously can’t go over them,’’ Page said. “This is when you kind of outwit them. You have to have a counter play. You are not going to be able to do the things you are normally able to do against players your size.

“For me, it was basically finding a way to get around her. If I got her away from the basket, it was just going around her. And if I was on the low block, using reverses or getting her going one way and going back the other. With players like that, you have to use your quickness.”

The Gators are heavy underdogs as you would expect considering that Baylor is 35-0 and few teams have seriously challenged the Bears this season.

The Gators advanced with a 70-65 win over Ohio State by playing ferocious defense on the perimeter, getting out to a quick lead and maintaining their energy level throughout the game. They also hit nine 3-pointers, which helped neutralize 6-foot-5 Buckeyes center Ashley Adams defensively.

They could use the same type of shooting performance against the Bears.

Despite few giving them a chance, the Gators sound as confident as they have all season.

“We're never going to be the tallest or the fastest, so I think a big part of who we are is making the little plays and the hustle plays.” Jones said. “You see we all wear knee pads. That's a big part of who we are is not being afraid to jump on the floor and do whatever it takes to get loose balls.

“I mean, that's a little thing that can separate you when there's a talent differential.”

Gators coach Amanda Butler said not to expect a big change in defensive philosophy. The Gators will pressure the perimeter and switch up ways to defend Griner. Offensively, they have to be smart.

During one routine at practice Monday, Butler drilled the players about keeping their arms up above their head defensively instead of out to the side.

“We want to create an allusion that we are taller than we really are,’’ Butler told the players.

Offensively, it’s about being smart and efficient. Like Dydek during her WNBA career, Griner is a game-changer like no other player currently in women’s college basketball.

She presents a tall task for the Gators, but there are ways to make Griner go away at times if the Gators are on top of their game.

“We know she is going to block shots – that’s a guarantee,’’ Page said. “If you have open shots, you’ve got to take them. If that’s a 3-pointer, you take it. You’ve got to take open shots. You can’t turn down those shots.”

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GATORS GAMEBOX - NCAA DES MOINES REGION 

Florida vs. No. 1 Baylor

Tip-off: Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. (Stroh Center, Bowling Green, Ohio) 

Records: Florida 20-12; Baylor 35-0       

TV: ESPN2 (Cara Capuano and Abby Waner) 

Radio: WBXY-FM (99.5 in Gainesville – Adam Schick and Brittany Davis)

Game notes: Florida; Baylor

Need to know: The Gators are 2-5 all-time in second-round NCAA Tournament games, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 1997 and ’98 … Florida is 0-9 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams, losing to top-ranked Connecticut in 2009 in the second round in their last game against a No. 1 team … Florida is 1-3 all-time vs. Baylor, last facing the Bears in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament – a 91-76 loss … The winner faces the Georgetown-Georgia Tech winner on Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa … UF improved to 3-10 in games decided by six points or less with Sunday’s five-point win over Ohio State … Stewart has 204 career blocked shots and leads the Gators with 2.2 per game … While Griner is a can’t-miss threat, the Gators also know they must defend well against Bears guards Odyssey Sims (14.6 ppg) and Kimetria Hayden (9.0 ppg) and forward Destiny Williams (10.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg) … Since winning the 2005 national title, Baylor has advanced to the Sweet 16 four times … Griner has scored in double-figures in 75 consecutive games and 105 of 107 career games … Gators forward Jennifer George leads Florida with 15 double-doubles and has scored in double-figures 24 times this season … Florida’s win over Ohio State was Coach Amanda Butler’s 98th win at UF, surpassing Carol Ross as the winningest coach through their first five seasons leading the program … The win also gave Florida its 12th 20-win season in school history … Baylor is outscoring opponents by an average of 27.7 points.

 

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