Thursday, December 14, 2017
Sports

Georgia Tech's turn vs. Griner

ATLANTA — As soon as the NCAA bracket was announced, Sasha Goodlett started getting a flood of texts from her friends.

"They were all saying, 'Ohhh, you have to go against Brittney Griner,' " the Georgia Tech center recalled. "I was like, 'Hey, we have two games before that. Let's not get too caught up in ourselves.' "

Well, those two games are out of the way.

Fourth-seeded Georgia Tech has reached the region semi­finals for the first time in school history, and next up today in the Des Moines Region: top-ranked Baylor (36-0) and the nation's most dominant player.

The Yellow Jackets (26-8) are a huge underdog, like just about everyone who goes against Baylor. The Bears beat UC Santa Barbara by 41, then eased to a 19-point win over Florida that was punctuated by a Griner dunk.

"We don't have to do anything special or anything miraculous," said Goodlett, who will give away 3 inches against the 6-8 Griner. "We can't get too caught up in the name. We're going to focus on us and do what we do."

Teams have tried various props to prepare to face Griner's 88-inch wingspan (her standing reach is 9 feet, 2 inches) — a kayak paddle with a pad taped to it to swat shots, an old broom lying around a gym, a Texas A&M 6-10 male cheerleader who impersonates Griner in practice.

Georgia Tech petitioned the NCAA to use a 6-8 varsity men's player as a proxy for her in practice, but it was told that would violate the rules.

"We don't have any props, no oars, no brooms," Jackets coach MaChelle Joseph said, laughing. "No one's been able to figure out how to stop her. Maybe the only person who can stop Brittney Griner is Brittney Griner."

Connecticut, which has won two of its three games against Griner, uses a broom to alter shots in practice, but not specifically to impersonate Griner, said Chris Dailey, associate head coach. The concern is that players will become awed by her.

"If you get kids so concerned about Brittney Griner, they're like a squirrel in the middle of the road," Dailey said. "They just stop."

The props are similar to what men's teams did in the 1960s for UCLA and 7-footer Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In 1965, when Alcindor was in high school, DeMatha Catholic of Hyattsville, Md., used a tennis racket in practice, then halted the 71-game winning streak of Alcindor and Power Memorial Academy of Manhattan.

"We used my old Jack Kramer model, autographed," said John Moylan, an assistant on that DeMatha team. "It's in our trophy case."

Perhaps the most elaborate preparation for Alcindor — some called it a publicity stunt — occurred at Washington State in 1967. Coach Marv Harshman put a 6-6 player on a 14-inch stool at practice and taped boards to the hands of a 6-7 player. UCLA won.

The Griner impersonator at Texas A&M, David Benac, said he met Griner this month at the Big 12 tournament. He told her: "I'm on the women's practice team. I'm you." To which she laughed and replied, "Tall people gotta represent."

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