Lady Vols excited by Baylor battle
Posted: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 5:24 pm
By: By JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer
Now comes the second part of Tennessee’s two-step through Texas, and likely the more challenging one.
Having already dispatched No. 23 Texas on Sunday, the No. 6 Lady Vols (9-1) go to Waco to play No. 2 Baylor (9-1) tonight in one of the best early matchups of the season.
Baylor’s last-second loss at Connecticut last month served notice that Brittney Griner and the Lady Bears expect to make a run at a national championship. Tennessee’s depth, experience and flashy freshman point guard Meighan Simmons show the Lady Vols will once again have a say on who stays in the hunt to dethrone UConn.
Waco is setting up a rowdy welcome for the Lady Vols’ first trip to the Ferrell Center. Baylor is giving away 10,000 free bobblehead dolls of coach Kim Mulkey and officials have put the word out to fans to arrive early.
“I guess you’ve just reached the pinnacle of your career when you have your own bobble head,” Mulkey said.
Actually, Mulkey did that with Baylor’s 2005 national championship. Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has eight of those. Mulkey said it was a main goal of hers to get programs like Tennessee to make the trip to Waco for a regular-season game.
“You do it for your program, but your program’s got to be ready to handle that kind of competition,” Mulkey said.
Baylor is already established as one of the premiere programs in the country. The Lady Bears made the Final Four last season before losing to UConn.
Baylor and Tennessee split two games last season. The Lady Vols won in Knoxville in the regular season before Baylor knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament in the regional semifinals. Griner had 27 points and 10 rebounds in a dominating performance that Tennessee players haven’t forgotten.
“We’ve been looking forward to (Baylor) for a while,” Lady Vols guard Angie Bjorklund said moments after Tennessee beat Texas 92-77. “When that game ended, my mind went to Baylor. I’m not going to lie.”
The 6-foot-8 Griner continues to be a force in her sophomore season, averaging 23 points and eight rebounds to go with 52 blocks.
“Now that she’s a captain, a lot of the players look up to her because of how much her work ethic has changed just from being a freshman last year to now,” Baylor’s Melissa Jones said.
The Lady Bears also have been given a boost by Rutgers transfer Brooklyn Pope, who was one of the top high school players in Texas when she signed with the Scarlet Knights out of Fort Worth. Pope has started all 10 games for Baylor and is averaging 9.3 points and 7 rebounds.
Simmons is the speedy newcomer who has added some flash to Tennessee’s game. Summitt calls her one of the quickest guards she’s ever coached. Simmons, who played in high school in the San Antonio area, scored 18 points against the Longhorns on Sunday.
“I think she has inspired our team. Very seldom do you have a freshman come in and start in this program. She came in and there was no doubt in my mind that she needed to be in the lineup because of her skill set and speed,” Summitt said. “She brings it every day. We have to slow her down.”