DENVER - Brittney Griner took the Baylor Lady Bears to new heights.
Blocking layups, snagging rebounds, hitting shots over two and three helpless defenders, all season long she towered over the competition.
That left Griner with just one more task Tuesday night - cutting down the nets.
Griner had 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocks to lead Baylor to a dominating 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA women’s basketball championship, capping an unparalleled 40-0 season for the Lady Bears.
“She’ll go down as one of the greatest post players in the history of the game,’’ Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “I’m so glad she got that ring.’’
When the buzzer sounded, Griner finally celebrated, hamming it up as she helped take down the nets and dancing with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
Then she lifted coach Mulkey up on her shoulders briefly, just the way she has done for the Lady Bears during this long season.
“It meant everything for us to get it for coach,’’ said Griner, referring to Mulkey’s struggle with Bell’s palsy during the tournament. “She felt like she wasn’t there for us, but we told her every second that we could hear here loud and clear, everything she was saying.’’
Baylor became the seventh women’s team to run through a season unbeaten and the first in NCAA history to win 40 games. It was the second national championship for Baylor (2005).
Baylor did it in a nearly wire-to-wire victory, finishing with a flourish when anything less than bringing a title back to Waco would have been a huge disappointment.
The 6-foot-8-inch Griner was right at the center of the action as the Lady Bears took control. Every time Notre Dame made a run in the second half to cut into the deficit, Griner had an answer. She showed a wide array of post moves, hitting turnaround jumpers and hooks that the Irish had no way to stop - even when they collapsed around her.
Notre Dame fell short in the title game for the second straight season. The Irish lost to Texas A&M by six points last year.
Coach Muffet McGraw’s senior-heavy crew couldn’t solve Baylor and its superstar.
“I think she’s one of a kind,’’ McGraw said.
Griner, selected The Associated Press player of the year, also was named most outstanding player of the tournament.
All-American point guard Skylar Diggins did all she could to keep the Irish (36-4) in the game, scoring 20 points. But senior Natalie Novosel had just 5 points, going 0-for-11 from the field. Devereaux Peters, also playing in her final game, was saddled with foul trouble because of Griner. She scored 7 points.
Diggins “played a great game,’’ McGraw said. “She’s just a big-time player and she didn’t get a lot of help today.’’