The Times West Virginian

March 2, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Is Baylor’s Griner the best ever?

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Over the years there have been a number of great players to find their way into the Coliseum.

Even as a relative latecomer to Morgantown, arriving in December of 1995, I have been able to see a string of great players come through one of the really great on-campus facilities in the land, considering that it already has served 43 years.

The first game I attended brought Georgetown and Allen Iverson to town for the West Virginia University’s first Big East game, which wound up being an overtime classic that the Hoyas won, 86-83, with Iverson scoring 22 points and dishing out 10 assists, yet being outplayed by Seldon Jefferson of WVU, who scored 26, and Gordon Malone, who added 23 with 12 rebounds.

And yes, Tim Higgins was one of the officials working the game … and don’t you miss him nowadays.

There have been some classic performances by classic players over the seasons, Austin Carr setting the Coliseum scoring record with 47 points on Feb. 20, 1971, the same season he scored 55 against WVU at Notre Dame, while the Irish’s Adrian Dantley came in and rang up 41 points on the Mountaineers on Feb. 23, 1974.

Then it was hardly a happy Valentine’s Day in 1980 when Darrell Griffith and Louisville’s “Doctors of Dunk” arrived and beat WVU, 90-78, with Griffith scoring 35.

We mention this because tonight yet another great player comes to the Coliseum, one who is even a greater player than the greatest to play there this year, who clearly was the Red Panda Acrobat.

Like the Red Panda, a flat-footed Brittney Griner is of the female persuasion and stands almost as tall as the Red Panda does when astride her unicycle. Griner measures 6-feet, 8-inches in altitude, which in today’s women’s game makes her something like it was when Wilt Chamberlain made his 7-foot, 1-inch debut into the land of Lilliputians who played college basketball at the time.

This Baylor Bear, who is the No. 1 player on the nation’s No. 1 team and the defending national champion, has virtually all that Chamberlin had. Not only does she carry the physical advantage that height gives you, but she, too, is athletic, which allows her to play the game on the floor as well as at the rim.

That she is one of the greatest women basketball players of all time is not debated.

What is debated is whether Brittney Griner is the greatest player of all time.

Recently she surpassed 3,000 career points to move into fifth place among college basketball’s all-time scorers. Perhaps the way she did so is most impressive, for during this game she outscored the entire Texas team in the first half.

When this game was over she was looking down at USC’s Cheryl Miller and Tennessee’s Chamique Holdsclaw in scoring, and they certainly are in the debate for the greatest players ever. You probably include

Connecticut’s Rebecca Lobo and Diana Taurasi, Tennessee’s Candace Parker and Duke’s Alana Beard in this group.

“You have to play offensively differently against Baylor when Griner is in the game than you do against any other team in the country. That is why she is the Player of the Year. That is why she is the best player in women’s college basketball right now,” Lobo, now an ESPN analyst, has said of her.

All of these players, of course, were dominant, as is Griner, who not only has 3,000 points but 700 blocks, the only woman to reach that figure.

And whereas Georgeann Wells of West Virginia became the first woman to dunk a basketball in a game in Elkins against the University of Charleston on Dec. 21, 1984, before about 100 fans, Griner dunks regularly before sold-out crowds.

“Griner has changed the game,” Notre Dame’s coach Muffet McGraw has said. “I’m just glad she didn’t dunk on us. She really defensively changes the whole game. Every time you drive in there, no matter who is guarding you, she’s going to be at the rim to block a shot. We didn’t get as many shots around the basket as we had hoped to. Certainly she changed our game.”

She changed it to the point that last year the Bears won the national title as the first team to ever go 40-0 and are favored again this year as they stand 27-1 coming into the Coliseum tonight.

WVU goes in with little to lose and a lot to gain.

“We have an opportunity,” coach Mike Carey said. “Any time you get an opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country, you have to look forward to it.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.