No. 1 Baylor University took its first-ever Preseason WNIT title with a 94-81 win over second-ranked Notre Dame at Waco's Ferrell Center on Sunday before a partisan crowd of 9,477 and a national TV audience. The win was also Baylor's first in a No. 1-versus-No. 2 match-up, though the Bears barely missed upsetting then top-ranked Connecticut, falling by a single point, 64-65, in an early-season 1-2 match-up in Hartford last year.
The victory was fueled by an impressive 32-point, 14-board effort from a dominant Brittney Griner, who also added a record-setting five blocks to the winning cause.
Griner got plenty of help from point guard Odysey Sims. For reasons neither coach nor player would would disclose, Sims did not get her usual start, but she entered the game early on, playing 38 minutes and contributed 25 points while handing out six assists and grabbing a career-high six steals.
Despite the loss, the Irish acquitted themselves well, enjoying slight leads for much of the blisteringly paced first 10 minutes of play and matching the Lady Bears point-for-point in the second half. Notre Dame was led by Natalie Novosel's 28 points, plus five rebounds, while Irish floor leader and National Player of the Year candidate Skyler Diggins was hot on her teammate's heels, finishing with 27 points and three assists, but an uncustomary seven turnovers.
But Notre Dame would prove unable to overcome the damage done by defensive lapses late in both periods that allowed Baylor to explode for major runs and bring home the win.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA -- Virginia, a team that got little love in the preseason polls, took on No. 3 Tennessee Sunday, and was competitive. Very Competitive. The Joanne Boyle era at UVA began last week with three wins over minor opponents, but a lot appears to have been accomplished in that time. On Sunday, Virginia played with energy and toughness that easily matched the taller, more elite Lady Vols.
In fact, the Cavaliers were not just competitive, they proved themselves superior. Boyles rejuvenated team pulled off the seasons first major upset, defeating Tennessee, 69-64, in overtime, proving that a new coach, a new system, and great upperclassmen can make a big difference very quickly.
Waco, TX (Sports Network) - Brittney Griner poured in 32 points and grabbed 14
rebounds, as top-ranked Baylor pulled away in the second half for a 94-81
victory over No. 2 Notre Dame in the championship game of the preseason WNIT.
The biggest game of the regular season may take place this Sunday at 2 p.m. EST when No. 2 Notre Dame travels to No. 1 Baylor for the championship game of the Preseason WNIT tournament, a match-up that could repeat itself come Final Four time.
While most Division I teams are engaged in powder-puff pre-conference schedules to "build confidence" (and add easy wins to their resumes come NCAA Tournament selection time), Notre Dame and Baylor laying it all on the line, and in the process are bringing enhanced stature and excitement to the preseason WNIT. These are two teams on a mission. Last season, Baylor got derailed at the Dallas Regional by eventual national champion Texas A&M. Then, Notre Dame was eliminated by A&M in the national championship game.
Both teams feel they were somehow shortchanged last year. Both are determined not to let that happen again. Both teams have National Player of the Year candidates and both are off to fast starts. Both teams have yet to be really challenged. Notre Dame has demolished three noncompetitive opponents while Baylor whomped No. 10 UCLA on Thursday with eye-opening ease to go to 3-0.
Surprisingly, there have been just 47 No. 1-versus-No. 2 match-ups in the history of women's basketball, and for the first time in recent memory, the UConn Huskies won't be a participant. Connecticut has appeared in 14 of the last 19 such match-ups since 1999, winning 12 of them. The Huskies were the No. 1-ranked team in the last five.
Baylor has appeared in just two such games, and this will be its first as the top-ranked team in the nation. Last season, the Lady Bears, then ranked No. 2, suffered a one-point loss (64-65) in an early season meeting with then-No. 1 ranked Connecticut.
This will be the third No. 1-versus-No. 2 game for the Fighting Irish, and their first since they split a pair of such contests during their 2001 national championship season.
Baylor and Notre Dame met for the first time last season in Waco. Notre Dame guards Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel put up 21 and 12 points, respectively, but it would not be enough. Five Lady Bears scored in double digits in the contest, with Brittney Griner notching 21, Brooklyn Pope turning in a double-doubles with 20 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, Kimetria Hayden adding 14 points and Odyssey Sims and Melissa Jones chipping in 11 and 10, respectively.
In the end, the Lady Bears came out on top, 76-65. How are these two talent-packed teams likely to fare this time out?