From Comcast SportsNetHARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- It had been a while since Brittney Griner and Baylor faced a true test on the court.The top-ranked Lady Bears and their 6-foot-8 star passed a tough one Monday night, rallying to beat No. 3 Connecticut 76-70 in a women's basketball showdown that certainly lived up to its billing.Griner scored 21 of her 25 points in the second half, including the 3,000th of her career, to extend Baylor's winning streak to 23 games. The reigning AP player of the year became the eighth women's player in Division I history to reach the milestone, doing it on two free throws with 1:05 left."Just got more aggressive," Griner said. "Coach told me I need to be more aggressive in the paint, go to the goal, so that's what I did."Baylor (25-1) went 40-0 last season en route to the school's second national championship, and its only loss this season came in Hawaii against Stanford back in November. Griner and her talented teammates hadn't really been challenged since, with no opponent coming within single digits.But when UConn built a seven-point lead in the second half, the Lady Bears were ready."It's always good to give yourself a gauge of what you need to work on," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "I told them at halftime, it's been a long time since we've had to execute on offense. We're so athletic and so good and so talented, we just go play basketball. But against good teams who play great defensively, you must execute. And we needed to do some things better in the second half."Griner and fellow preseason All-America Odyssey Sims had a tough first half, combining to go 3 for 19 from the field. They responded after halftime, though.Baylor, which has already clinched the Big 12 regular-season title, led 54-53 midway through the second half before Griner took over. She scored seven points during a quick burst, and her putback made it 67-61 with 5 minutes left.UConn (24-2) rallied behind Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to cut it to 67-65, but Griner answered with a putback. Then she hit the two milestone free throws 1:30 later to make it 73-67, all but sealing the win.Griner had missed key free throws down the stretch when she was a sophomore and her team lost at Connecticut by one point. She wasn't going to let that happen again, beating the only team in the country that she didn't have a winning record against."It meant a lot to me to get it on the free throw line," Griner said, smiling. "Last time I was here I was horrible, my free throws were horrible."The game, hyped up all season, lived up to the buzz -- even though neither coach wanted to put too much emphasis on this one, knowing there will be a lot more at stake if the schools meet again in the NCAA tournament."This was a great game for women's basketball," Mulkey said. "But this game is not going to knock Geno (Auriemma) out of a No. 1 seed, not going to make us a guaranteed overall No. 1 seed. It's not going to be a game that we get on the plane and celebrate we just beat UConn. It gave us a gauge of what to expect. It will help improve his team and help improve my team."UConn led by three at halftime and expanded the advantage to 41-34 after Griner was called for a flagrant foul for grabbing Stefanie Dolson in the backcourt after the 6-foot-8 center had turned the ball over.That just seemed to fuel Griner and the Lady Bears, who scored the next eight points to take a 42-41 lead with 14:03 left."Coach told me to play through it, so that's what I did," Griner said.The teams went shot for shot over the next 5 minutes, with neither able to gain more than a four-point lead.Griner answered a 3-pointer by Dolson with a three-point play of her own that started the key run. She then hit a hook shot to give Baylor a 59-56 lead with 8 minutes left.Griner, who came into the game averaging 19 points, 7.7 blocks and 7.3 rebounds against UConn, passed LaToya Thomas of Mississippi State to move into eighth on the women's career scoring list. The last player to reach 3,000 points was Connecticut forward Maya Moore, who was in attendance Monday night.Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 26 points to lead the Huskies."We're just not good enough yet to beat these guys tonight," Auriemma said.UConn jumped out to a quick 12-2 lead much to the delight of the sellout crowd of 16,294 that was whipped into a frenzy on every Huskies basket. The Lady Bears rallied behind Griner, who was more of a passer than a scorer over the first 20 minutes. She'd catch the ball and quickly draw three UConn defenders before dishing it down low for an easy layup for a teammate."We're a team that has seen it all," Mulkey said. "We're a team that has seen every defense imaginable."The Huskies opened a 27-18 advantage with 3:30 left in the first half before Baylor scored the next eight points. Mosqueda-Lewis was fouled just before the half to make it 29-26 at the break."As well as we played defensively in the first half, it should have been a 15-point game instead of a three-point game. That changes everything," Auriemma said. "We knew in the locker room they weren't going to get 26 in the second half."Griner scored four points in the first half and Sims had only two as she missed nine of her 10 shots -- including her first seven."Brittney and Odyssey are two of the finest to ever play the game. But they don't win it by themselves," Mulkey said. "We went on a run with Niya Johnson on the floor. We went on a run with Alexis Prince on the floor. Those kids are freshmen that can play."The game capped a weeklong celebration of games in honor of former N.C. State coach Kay Yow, who died in 2009 after a long battle with cancer. Baylor wore pink sneakers while UConn had the same color adorning its uniforms. Mulkey wore a pink jacket and leather pants.
Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.
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- C's hold on for 107-106 victory
- Stars, studs and duds: Another sterling fourth-quarter performance from Thomas
But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.
Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.
And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.
Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.
But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.
The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6).
And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.
“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”
Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.
Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.
“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”
And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.
Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.
Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.
“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”
The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.
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Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.
Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.
Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.
“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”
And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.
“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”
And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.
“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.
Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.
Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.
Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.
Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.
Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.