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UConn women face tall order in Griner, No. 1 Baylor

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published February 18. 2013 4:00AM

Storrs - And to think how such spotlight games command layered analysis, months of anticipation and myriad strategical theories.

Geno Auriemma managed to turn the hype surrounding UConn-Baylor tonight at the XL Center (9 p.m., ESPN2) into a one-sentence, 13-word preview:

"If you win you feel better," Auriemma said Sunday after practice at Gampel Pavilion. "If you lose, you feel like (expletive)."

Clearly, Auriemma wasn't much into turning this into Ali-Frazier. Much anticipated game? Obviously. That's what happens when No. 1 (Baylor) plays No. 3 (UConn). But Auriemma has seen this movie before.

"You try to gauge where you are," he said. "The interesting thing about some of the games we play is that if you get far enough in NCAA tournament, there's a pretty good chance you'll play those guys guys again.

"Regardless of what we did against Duke, Stanford, Notre Dame, Penn State, Maryland or what we do (tonight), hopefully we'll be in a position to play them again. And at that point, it'll really matter who wins and who loses."

Baylor (24-1) might have arrived in Hartford for this game winners of 65 straight, were it not for a loss to Stanford in Honolulu on Nov. 16. It should be noted that junior Odyssey Sims, perhaps the nation's best guard, missed that game because of injury.

And while much of the pregame focus has been on how the Huskies plan to defend 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, very likely the No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft, their success defending Sims may have larger impact on the outcome.

Sims averages 12.4 points and 5.7 assists, shooting 46 percent from the field.

"She's got the ball in her hands an awful lot and she gets the ball to right people at the right time," Auriemma said. "She makes their offense a lot better. You can't just concentrate all your attention on Griner. Sims will make you pay and make that strategy worthless.

"She's a really tough on the ball defender, too," he said. "I guess you can be when you have that shot blocker behind you."

That shot blocker, Griner, has 2,975 career points, 1,181 rebounds and NCAA records of 695 blocks and 13 dunks. She needs 25 against the Huskies tonight to reach 3,000 points for her career.

"I know one of their goals was to win 91 in a row or how ever many in a row," Auriemma said, alluding to Baylor's goal of breaking UConn's 90-game win streak. "I think they discovered how difficult that is to do on any level. (But) when you are the defending national champion and have everybody back from that team ... you do walk around like the other team really doesn't have any impact.

"I've been there lots of times. It's a good feeling. I'm sure they've got that feeling."

Auriemma was even asked if he needed to be a bit more animated - even for him - given Baylor coach Kim Mulkey's skill at working the officials.

"Kim's personality is exactly the way it was as a player," Auriemma said. "She's relentless, she's tough, she's aggressive. I think that's why her teams play the way they do. It must be working. Brittney walks a lot and doesn't get called for it. There's something to be said for working the officials."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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