Storrs, CT (Boston Herald) - There is no lack of intriguing subplots to tonight's clash of the women's basketball titans.
Top-ranked UConn's NCAA Division I-record 79-game winning streak certainly could face its sternest challenge to date. The individual showdown between UConn senior Maya Moore, the reigning national player of the year, and heir apparent Brittney Griner of Baylor squaring off on national television should make for good theater.
Jordan Madden will also play. The EPC alum has averaged six points and two rebounds in three games for 3-0 Baylor.
All the pregame hype aside, this is still a game between two national championship contenders in search of their identity and in need of an early test like the one tonight at 6 at the XL Center.
The game, being televised on ESPN2, figures to be rather revealing for both teams. As much as the advanced billing centers around Moore and Griner, it's more likely that the supporting cast which plays the best will be the one leaving the court on the winning side.
"I do not think you can really put into words how excited we are to play them," Baylor senior guard Melissa Jones said after Sunday's 95-51 win over Rice. "That is kind of why you play basketball, to play those big-name teams. We are just excited to get another shot at them."
When the teams met in the 2010 national semifinals in San Antonio, Moore's 34 points and 12 rebounds powered the Huskies to a 70-50 victory. Griner was outplayed by UConn's Tina Charles, and the Huskies won with relative ease.
Well, Charles has graduated. The task of contending with the 6-foot-8 Griner, a sophomore, figures to fall to either 6-5 freshman Stefanie Dolson or 6-3 sophomore Heather Buck.
"It is going to be a lot of work," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I don't know if Buck has the (moxie) to do anything, and I don't know if Stefanie has the experience to be able to keep her from what she wants to do. I am certainly not going to risk putting Maya Moore on her and getting her in foul trouble. That 30-30 that (Kevin) Love put up (in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 112-103 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday), that might not be the best performance of the last two weeks."
Dolson has been dealing with a little bit of the freshman blues. Poor practice habits leading up to Sunday's season-opening win over Holy Cross resulted in Buck getting the start against the Crusaders after Dolson started both exhibition games.
"Coming to Connecticut was to get that kick in the butt," Dolson said. "I've been babied my whole life. I think in order for me to get to that level of the best -- the best player in the country, or the best player I know I can be -- I knew I had to come to a program where they weren't going to baby me, and they would push me as hard as I could go. They've definitely done that."
While UConn is naturally concerned about the impact Griner can have in a game, Auriemma is hesitant to be so focused on dealing with Griner that other Baylor players get open looks.
"You are kind of in a tough situation, because she has the ability to get whoever is guarding her in foul trouble," Auriemma said. "What does that do to our chances to score if somebody's got two quick fouls early on? We've got to be careful we don't make this, 'We are going to take four or five guys, guard Brittney Griner and let everybody else take whatever shot they want whenever they want.'
"We did that in the LSU game in Fresno (in the 2007 NCAA tournament), and it backfired on us. I am going to watch the game, scout games out, try to have plans A, B and C and hope that we don't have to use plans B and C. I have a feeling that might not be enough. There is just no easy answer to the question that she poses."
While UConn may struggle to check Griner, Baylor proved that it had issues in contending with Moore during the Final Four loss. With Tiffany Hayes scoring a career-high 32 points against Holy Cross and Kelly Faris taking on a larger role, don't be surprised if the Huskies look to run early, so Griner isn't able to impact the game with her shotblocking prowess if she is being beaten down the floor.
"It starts with Maya Moore," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "It starts with the best player in the country in Maya. It starts with a program that: they are good, they are great, they are what everybody wants to be. They are undefeated, they are national champions, their winning streak. The list is endless of the things that Connecticut brings to the floor."