HARTFORD, Conn. — Brittney Griner scored 25 points, including the 3,000th of her career, to help No. 1 Baylor rally past third-ranked Connecticut 76-70 on Monday night, extending the Lady Bears' winning streak to 23 games.
Griner became the eighth player in Division I history to reach the milestone, doing it on two free throws with 1:05 left. She finished with 21 points in the second half.
"Just got more aggressive," Griner said. "Coach told me I need to be more aggressive in the paint, go to the goal, so that's what I did."
The defending national champion Lady Bears' only loss this season came in Hawaii against Stanford back in November. Baylor (25-1) went 40-0 last season en route to the school's second national championship.
Baylor led 54-53 midway through the second half before Griner took over. She scored seven points during a quick burst, and her putback made it 67-61 with 5 minutes left.
UConn rallied behind Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to make it a 67-65, but Griner answered with a putback. Then she hit the two milestone free throws 1:30 later to make it 73-67 and seal the win.
"It's always good to give yourself a gauge of what you need to work on," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "I told them at halftime, it's been a long time since we've had to execute on offense. We're so athletic and so good and so talented, we just go play basketball. But against good teams who play great defensively, you must execute. And we needed to do some things better in the second half."
Griner had missed key free throws down the stretch when she was a sophomore and her team lost at Connecticut by one point. She wasn't going to let that happen again, beating the only team in the country that she didn't have a winning record against.
The game, hyped up all season, lived up to its billing – even though neither coach wanted to put too much emphasis on this one, knowing there will be a lot more at stake if the schools meet again in the NCAA tournament.
"We're just not good enough yet to beat these guys tonight," Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said.
UConn led by three at halftime and expanded the advantage to 41-34 after Griner was called for a flagrant foul for grabbing Stefanie Dolson in the backcourt after the 6-foot-8 center had turned the ball over.
That just seemed to fuel Griner and the Lady Bears, who scored the next eight points to take a 42-41 lead with 14:03 left.
"Coach told me to play through it, so that's what I did," Griner said.
The teams went shot for shot over the next 5 minutes, with neither able to gain more than a four-point lead.
Griner answered a 3-pointer by Dolson with a three-point play of her own that started the key run. She then hit a hook shot to give Baylor a 59-56 lead with 8 minutes left.
Griner, who came into the game averaging 19 points, 7.7 blocks and 7.3 rebounds against UConn, passed LaToya Thomas of Mississippi State to move into eighth on the women's career scoring list. The last player to reach 3,000 points was Connecticut forward Maya Moore, who was in attendance Monday night.
Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 26 points to lead UConn (24-2).
UConn jumped out to a quick 12-2 lead much to the delight of the sellout crowd of 16,294 that was whipped into a frenzy on every Huskies basket. The Lady Bears rallied behind Griner, who was more of a passer than a scorer over the first 20 minutes. She'd catch the ball and quickly draw three UConn defenders before dishing it down low for an easy layup for a teammate.
"We're a team that has seen it all," Mulkey said. "We're a team that has seen every defense imaginable."
The Huskies opened a 27-18 advantage with 3:30 left in the first half before Baylor scored the next eight points. Mosqueda-Lewis was fouled just before the half to make it 29-26 at the break.
Griner scored four points in the first half and Odyssey Sims had only two as she missed nine of her 10 shots – including her first seven.
"Brittney and Odyssey are two of the finest to ever play the game. But they don't win it by themselves," Mulkey said. "We went on a run with Niya Johnson on the floor. We went on a run with Alexis Prince on the floor. Those kids are freshmen that can play."
The game capped a weeklong celebration of games in honor of former N.C. State coach Kay Yow, who died in 2009 after a long battle with cancer. Baylor wore pink sneakers while UConn had the same color adorning its uniforms. Mulkey wore a pink jacket and leather pants.
"It's good for women's basketball. It's good for television," Mulkey said. "I'm ready for next Saturday. I'm ready to celebrate a Big 12 championship. If we go to UConn and we win, it's great. You're supposed to win. You're the No. 1 team in the country. And if you lose, what have we lost? Nothing."
Baylor has already clinched the Big 12 regular-season title.
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