Missouri women's basketball faces tall task at Baylor

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 | 9:31 p.m. CST; updated 10:30 p.m. CST, Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Oklahoma's Joanna McFarland, left, and Jasmine Hartman, right, gang up to defend Baylor's Brittney Griner in the Bears' 82-81 victory Sunday in Norman, Okla.

COLUMBIA — At 6 feet 8 inches, Baylor’s Brittney Griner is 5 inches taller than anyone on the Missouri women’s basketball team. Her 7-foot-4 wingspan makes her seem even taller.

Although the goal of every game plan of every team that plays Baylor is to try to limit Griner’s production first and foremost, most teams fail. She is averaging more than 22 points per game this season. Usually, her height is just too much. She seems impossible to stop, which leads to the question: How do you slow down a player such as Griner?

Missouri coach Robin Pingeton did not give any specifics about her plan to limit Griner’s production when Missouri plays Wednesday at Baylor, but she has some ideas.

“We’re going to go into the game with a couple of different game plans,” Pingeton said. “We’ll have to see which one is going to put us in a position to hopefully slow her down a little bit.”

Here are a few of the options Pingeton might be considering.

1. Surround her with defenders.

“You try to keep as many bodies as you can around her,” Missouri senior guard RaeShara Brown said when asked how to go about defending Griner.

“Probably triple-team her,” Missouri sophomore guard Trenee Thornton said.

That would surely slow Griner down. The idea is to get the ball out of her hands, but it leaves the rest of the defense playing shorthanded. Putting three people on Griner would leave the rest of the team playing two versus four. Considering the No. 3-ranked team in the nation has others capable of scoring — freshman Odyssey Sims scored 37 points in a win over Oklahoma on Sunday — that might not be the best idea, which Thornton quickly realized.

“Well, double-team her,” she added. “Make sure to keep two people around Brittney at all times.”

2. Attack her on offense.

Out of the small number of teams that can say they’ve been able to limit Griner’s production in the past two years, Missouri is one of them.

Last year, in a game at Mizzou Arena, the Tigers went right at Griner when they were on offense and caused her to sit most of the first half with two fouls. She finished the game with 14 points and just two blocks in the Tigers 70-62 upset of then-No. 10 Baylor.

While this worked for Missouri on that day, the Tigers must be careful when they enter the paint on Wednesday. Griner is mainly known for her ability to dunk with ease, but her second claim to fame is her shot-blocking ability. She set an NCAA record with 223 blocked shots last season as a freshman.

“You definitely have to be aware of her presence,” said Brown, who typically loves to drive to the basket. “She can get double-figure blocks any given day. I’m definitely not going to go in there and not be conscience of her, thinking she’s not going to block my shot. It’s all about making the smart play. Sometimes you have to use the floater, sometimes the running layup. You might even attack and dish. You just have to see how it goes.”

3. Keep her away from the basket.

The concept is simple. Griner’s primary advantage is her height. The farther she is from the basket, the less advantageous her height becomes.

“You just got to be physical with her,” Brown said. “You can’t let her get position on the block. Make every shot a tough shot. You’re not going to block her shot. You want to keep her out of her comfort zone, out of her range or out of her element. You can’t let her sit around the basket and get layups all day.”

4. Use a full-court press.

It was a strategy used by Texas Tech on Feb. 19, when the Red Raiders became the only team besides top-ranked Connecticut to defeat the Bears this season.

“I thought the press wasn’t maybe necessarily getting the steal or getting the turnover, but what we were doing was making them run their offense with 20, 21, 22, 23 (seconds) on the clock,” Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry said after the win. “You could tell that that was really affecting them.”

Essentially, when the press worked, it gave the Bears less time to get the ball inside to Griner. She scored just 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting.

5. Play a zone defense.

Most zone defenses are designed to pack the paint and force opponents to shoot from the perimeter. Texas Tech succeeded by dropping into a zone whenever Baylor broke their press on Feb. 19.

Pingeton typically stays in a man-to-man defense, but that didn’t stop Tennessee coach Pat Summitt from using a zone defense to limit Griner to three field goals in a game on Nov. 15, 2009.

"That's the first time ever, in 36 years, that we started in a zone and played it throughout the game," Summitt said after her team won the game.

6. Send her to the foul line.

The idea is to make Griner earn her points from the free-throw line by fouling her. The technique became popular after having been used with some success in the NBA on Shaquille O’Neal, who has shot just 53 percent from the foul line in his 18-year career. But this season, Griner goes to the line at a rate of more than eight times a game, where she shoots 77 percent.

Whatever strategy the Tigers use to try to slow down Griner and Baylor on Wednesday, there’s one thing that always helps.

“Hopefully you can knock down shots and make it a lot easier for you,” Brown said.

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