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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Baylor's dunking Griner a woman on the rise

For a moment there, it looked and sounded as if it would happen. A collective gasp rose from the stands at Madison Square Garden just as surely and boldly as Brittney Griner rose over defender Stefanie Murphy and toward the rim.

But it wasn't to be. Griner did make the basket and her hand did brush the top of the rim - after she let the shot go. But it wasn't the dunk that everyone wanted. So the gasp was followed by a groan, and Griner, Baylor's 6-8 freshman sensation, finished a 68-55 win over Boston College without a dunk.

"I was trying to get that one,'' Griner said Sunday after the first game of the Maggie Dixon College Classic. "I always feel like there's an expectation for me to dunk.''

I don't know if Griner, who scored 25 points, is the best freshman ever to play women's basketball, but it's hard to think of a player who has entered the game with higher expectations.

A video of Griner dunking and hanging on the rim during practice at Nimitz High School in Houston has drawn more than 4 million viewers. By way of context, a video of the top 10 dunks by LeBron James has had 1.68 million viewers. As a high school senior, Griner had 52 dunks and averaged 12 blocks a game. In one game, she had 25 blocks. (She had three Sunday.) It took only four games before her righthanded slam against Jacksonville State made her only the seventh woman to dunk in a collegiate game.

Most women's college basketball coaches shy away from focusing on the individual, preferring to talk ad nauseam about ball movement, the team concept and selfless play. Baylor's Kim Mulkey, however, is smart enough to know what she has, smart enough to know that every time Griner lays down a dunk that it's not only good for her program, it's great for women's college basketball.

"I would venture that a lot of those folks out there today came to see Brittney Griner because they've heard about her and seen her on the Internet,'' Mulkey said. "She has a pleasantness about her game on the floor that attracts you to watch her not just because she's 6-foot-8, but the way she carries herself.''

What makes Griner unique for a player her size is that she is no lumbering Statue of Liberty: She's quick, athletic and agile. She has impressive skills to go with her size, which makes her incredibly entertaining.

Several weeks ago, NBA commissioner David Stern told Sports Illustrated he believes a woman will play in his league sometime during the next decade. Although a number of current NBA players, including LeBron, have pooh-poohed the notion, watching Griner it was hard not to wonder whether she could be the one to break that barrier.

It's not something the coaches of the women's game are all that anxious to consider. Mulkey said she doesn't understand why any woman would want to play in the NBA. "I think there are just too many opportunities to make money overseas.''

Coach Pat Summitt, whose Tennessee team defeated Rutgers, 68-54, in the second game of the doubleheader, wasn't a big fan of the idea, either. "I don't think it will happen in my lifetime,'' Summitt said.

Whether or not it does, Griner's game looks more like an NBA player's than any women's player I've ever seen. Is that good or bad for women's college basketball? All I can say is there were a lot of spectators Sunday hanging on her every shot.

New York Sports