|Brittney Griner dunks during the second half against Georgia Tech on Saturday. (US Presswire)|
DES MOINES, Iowa -- When the lights were at their brightest, Georgia Tech freshman Sydney Wallace was at her best. Wallace finished a sparkling NCAA tournament run with 32 points in fourth-seeded Tech's 83-68 loss to top-seeded Baylor in the regional semifinals on Saturday.
The 5-foot-10 guard averaged just six points a game during the season before putting up 22 in a first-round victory over Sacred Heart and 24 in a second-round win against Georgetown. Then she knocked down a succession of jump shots against Baylor, including 8 of 12 from 3-point range. The eight 3s were a school record.
"I'm really proud of the tournament that Sydney Wallace had," Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said. "Not just here, but throughout the first and second round. A personal best 32 points and a school-record eight 3-pointers says a lot about her and it gets us excited about the future."
The problem for the Yellow Jackets (26-9) was that Wallace didn't get enough help. Oh, and Baylor also had Brittney Griner, who scored 35 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked six shots and threw down a two-handed dunk to cap her performance.
"They're the number one team in the nation, and they showed us a whole different level of intensity," Georgia Tech guard Metra Walthour said. "We hung tight with them in the beginning, but they pulled ahead at the end. They pretty much showed us the level that we need to play at to get over the hump, but I'm still proud of the season we had."
Baylor was coasting to a regional final date with second-seeded Tennessee on Monday night when the 6-foot-8 Griner got behind the Tech defense. She took a pass from Brooklyn Pope and slammed the ball with 6:29 left, giving Baylor a 77-46 lead. Far from taking umbrage at a dunk when the game was out of hand, Joseph thought it was cool.
"It doesn't bother me," she said. "I think she's great for the game. I think it's awesome. Nobody wants to get dunked on, but how many people can actually say I coached in a game where a female basketball player dunked?"
Walthour and Tyaunna Marshall each scored 10 points for Georgia Tech, with Marshall grabbing 10 rebounds. Tech outrebounded Baylor 44-33 and hit 10 of 19 3-point shots, but never had a chance once the Lady Bears (37-0) got rolling. Sasha Goodlett, Tech's 6-5 senior center, had a tough day against Griner and made only four of 18 shots. But she's confident the Yellow Jackets are a program on the rise.
"Last year, when everyone counted us out, we came together," Goodlett said. "We knew that it was going to take this program to a whole other level. I'm very proud of me and my fellow seniors and what we've done."
Destiny Williams added 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting for Baylor, which won the national championship in 2005 and will be seeking its third Final Four appearance on Monday night. The Lady Bears took control with a 20-0 first-half run and never gave Tech a chance to answer. Griner dominated with her scoring (13-for-18 shooting), rebounding and intimidation on defense. Then came the dunk and even the neutral fans stood and roared their approval. Georgia Tech made the round of 16 for the first time and came in with nine victories in the last 10 games.
The Yellow Jackets showed they were serious about competing early as Wallace, who scored 51 points in the first two rounds of the tournament, hit a 3-pointer in front of the Baylor bench and dropped in a high floater over Griner that put Tech up 10-6 and forced a Baylor timeout. Wallace had no problem showing some enthusiasm after burying her 3. If only she and her teammates knew what was ahead. The Lady Bears charged out of the timeout and scored the next 20 points and take a 26-10 lead -- and they did it with everyone contributing. Griner hit three soft turnaround shots. Williams got inside for three buckets and made a leaner in the lane. Kimetria Hayden knocked down a jumper and a free throw, and Odyssey Sims added three free throws.
Tech, meanwhile, committed seven turnovers and missed six shots while going scoreless for 6 1/2 minutes. The Yellow Jackets would never recover, despite Wallace's sizzling shooting, and ended their season Iowa for the third time in five years. Georgia Tech lost to Iowa State in a first-round NCAA tournament game in Des Moines in 2008 and lost to Oklahoma in the second round of the 2009 tournament in Iowa City.