When the women's Final Four begins tonight, the most compelling story lines are likely to unfold in the event's second game between prohibitive favorite Connecticut and long shot Baylor, which is making just its second appearance in the national semifinals and seeking what would qualify among the sport's most improbable upsets.
That's because the reigning national champion Huskies (37-0) enter with an NCAA-record 76-game winning streak and are bidding to become the first team to win consecutive titles with an undefeated record both times.
"What can I tell you that 37 other teams haven't already told you?" Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said earlier this week in a conference call, during which former President George W. Bush telephoned on her private line. "We are up against it, I guess you'd say; what is it? David versus Goliath. And I have so much respect for what Connecticut has done . . . And we understand the challenge. We understand that we're not supposed to win. We understand 37 other teams haven't won . . . But we still have to play, and so we'll go out there and do like those other teams did and just play hard and do the best that we can."
While senior-laden Connecticut has dispatched four opponents in the NCAA Tournament by an average of 47 points, the Bears' best hope of staging a monumental upset falls to a freshman: 6-8 center Brittney Griner, who has a tournament-record 35 blocks and all the tools to become perhaps the most decorated player in the history of the game.
Griner has 218 blocks this season, more than all Huskies players combined, and even when she doesn't get a hand on the ball, her mere presence inside can alter shots dramatically. She's also averaging nearly 17 points in the tournament for the Bears (27-9), who won the Memphis Regional as a No. 4 seed after finishing sixth in the Big 12.
Despite her standout performances in the tournament, Griner did gain a measure of notoriety not long ago when she punched another player in the face. The incident occurred against Texas Tech on March 3, when after a foul by Tech's Jordan Barncastle, Griner landed a right cross to the face of the sophomore.
Griner was immediately ejected and had to sit out an additional game as mandated by the NCAA. Mulkey added another one-game suspension to that penalty, Griner missing the Bears' first-round game in the Big 12 tournament.
Since the punch went viral on the Internet, Griner has been on her best behavior as the central figure in Baylor's unexpected run to the Final Four. Among the teams the Bears beat along the way included traditional power Tennessee, the top seed in the Memphis Regional, and fifth-seeded Georgetown, which they limited to a season-low 17 percent shooting (12-for-70 from the floor) in a 49-33 victory.