Baylor’s Brittney Griner named AP Player of Year

Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERT -- Baylor's Brittney Griner holds up a Phoenix Mercury shirt as she poses next to The Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year trophy during a news conference at the Women's Final Four on Saturday in New Orleans. Griner is expected to be the first pick of the WNBA draft April 15.
Associated Press photo by GERALD HERBERT -- Baylor's Brittney Griner holds up a Phoenix Mercury shirt as she poses next to The Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year trophy during a news conference at the Women's Final Four on Saturday in New Orleans. Griner is expected to be the first pick of the WNBA draft April 15.

NEW ORLEANS — When Brittney Griner first heard she was expected to be in New Orleans this weekend despite top-ranked Baylor’s stunning 82-81 loss to Louisville in the Oklahoma City Regional semifinal, she confessed her first reaction was, “Oh, God, do I have to?”

But the more she thought about it, she said, the more she wanted to go.

And thus, Griner confessed she probably smiled the most for the first time in a week Saturday as she received her second straight Associated Press Women’s Basketball Player of the Year award.

Griner also was named to her third straight Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-America team Saturday, and Sunday she is expected to receive her second Wade Trophy, women’s basketball’s equivalent of the Heisman.

“I still haven’t really gotten over it,” Griner said of the loss that cost Baylor its shot at back-to-back national championships. “I just went to the skate park the next day to try to put it out of my mind.

“And then I went back to school but didn’t much feel like talking to anybody. I’m glad I’m here today, though.”

Next for Griner is the WNBA draft April 15. The 6-foot-8 center is expected to be the No. 1 pick, which belongs to the Phoenix Mercury.

Griner even posed holding up a Mercury T-shirt Saturday.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said, “I can’t wait to get out there.”

Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw was named the AP’s Coach of the Year.

Others on the WBCA team were Elena Delle Donne of Delaware, Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride of Notre Dame, Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of Connecticut, Chelsea Gray of Duke, Chiney Ogwumike of Stanford, Alyssa Thomas of Maryland and Griner’s teammate, Odyssey Sims.

Sharp-dressed coach

Louisville coach Jeff Walz is a close friend of Cardinals men’s coach Rick Pitino, but don’t look for Walz to be sporting one of Pitino’s Armani suits on the sideline Sunday.

Instead, he’ll stay with the open collar look featuring a shirt that looks like Walz could have brought it at Wal-Mart.

“I’m wearing the same thing I always wear,” he said. “My dress shirt, and that’s it.

“I’m trying to get it approved so I can be like a baseball coach and just wear a uniform.”

Breaking up is tough

His Connecticut team has lost seven of its past eight games against Notre Dame going into Sunday’s national semifinal, but count UConn coach Geno Auriemma among those definitely sad to see the end of the Big East Conference as we’ve known it.

“We have three Big East teams in the Final Four and we have two on the men’s side,” he said. “So we’ve got five of the eight Big East teams, five of the eight national championship contenders are Big East schools. I guess the shoutout should go out to all the presidents for having the foresight to tear apart the greatest basketball conference that ever existed.

“But as basketball coaches, I’m sure Rick and Jim Boeheim and Muffet and Jeff and I feel we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. And we wish it didn’t happen, but we have no control over it. If it’s going to end, this is a great way for it to end.”

Notre Dame moves to the ACC this fall and Louisville follows suit in 2014.

Auriemma said he hasn’t figured out how he will handle future scheduling if the Huskies remain in the newly named American Athletic Conference other than his program would not compete as an independent.

Parity? Not yet

Much is being made of Cal making its first Women’s Final Four and Louisville its second as a sign of increasing parity in the sport, but it still has a way to go to match that in the men’s game.

Since 2000, 19 schools have reached the Women’s Final Four, led by Connecticut with 11. For the men in the same time period, it’s 30, led by Kansas, Michigan State and North Carolina with four each.

Mad hatters

Archrival Stanford may be better known for the freewheeling approach its band takes to most things, but Cal’s Straw Hat band does things a little unconventionally, too.

“We know how to march in line,” senior trumpet player Sasha Duchin said. “But we’re student-run, so we choose the shows we do and the shapes we make on the field. We’re definitely much more organized.”

Duchin admitted she and her bandmates did not expect to be in New Orleans this weekend but were enjoying the trip, especially after spending the last two weekends in Lubbock, Texas, and Spokane, Wash.

“It’s always fun cheering the team no matter where we are,” she said. “But New Orleans has a lot more going on.”