for this game

Fresno St.-Baylor Preview

Mar 19, 2010 - 2:44 PM By BRETT HUSTON STATS Writer

Fresno State (27-6) at Baylor (23-9), 10:30 p.m. EDT

Brittney Griner didn't look quite like herself upon returning from her two-game suspension, and Baylor came up short in the star freshman's Big 12 tournament debut.

The 14th-ranked Bears hope Griner's first game on a bigger stage goes much smoother.

Griner's presence has fourth-seeded Baylor dreaming of a Final Four run, but it likely won't have the crowd in its favor Saturday night in a first-round matchup against 13th-seeded Fresno State in Berkeley.

The 6-foot-8 Griner was the nation's top recruit when she arrived in Waco, but despite averaging 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and a remarkable 6.1 blocks, the most memorable moment of her freshman season was one she'd prefer to forget.

Griner was ejected from the Bears' 69-60 win at Texas Tech on March 3 for punching Lady Raiders' forward Jordan Barncastle in the face, drawing a two-game suspension.

Baylor (23-9) was throttled by Texas in its regular-season finale without Griner, then survived a Big 12 tournament first-round game against Colorado before she returned to face Oklahoma in the quarterfinals. Griner had 10 blocks but was held to 13 points, and the Bears shot 35.7 percent in a 59-54 loss.

"It's her first time back in two games, and it's not exactly a team that isn't very good," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "She's got to work her way back into the flow."

Griner isn't the only player lacking experience. Kimetria Hayden and Shanay Washington, also freshmen, start for a team that lost its top four scorers from last season.

"They're babies, and they're just really playing hard and they're playing off of energy and enthusiasm," Mulkey said. "They're winning games because they're talented."

Baylor won the 2005 NCAA title but hasn't made it past the regional finals since.

Its 2009 exit was particularly painful, ending a tumultuous season that included the loss of leading scorer Danielle Wilson to a knee injury and Mulkey's hospitalization prior to the start of the NCAA tournament. The second-seeded Bears shot 24.5 percent in the regional semifinals against Louisville, and the Cardinals closed on an 18-2 run to send Baylor to a 56-39 defeat.

With Griner in the fold, however, the Bears seem capable of a deeper run. Fresno State (27-6) doesn't have a regular player taller than 6-foot-1 guard Hayley Munro, its second-leading scorer at 11.6 points per game.

The Bulldogs, though, will likely go as far as Jaleesa Ross can take them. The junior guard was the WAC's leading scorer (17.7 ppg) and was also the conference's defensive player of the year.

Against top competition, however, Ross hasn't been great. She shot 3 of 13 in a 68-46 loss to No. 2 Stanford on Dec. 30, and had 14 points in 40 minutes in a 68-66 WAC tournament title game loss to Louisiana Tech.

"Thankfully this isn't the last basketball game this team will play this year. We're looking forward to the next step. ... We still have our goals ahead of us," coach Adrian Wiggins said.

Baylor holds opponents to 33.7 percent shooting - tied for second in the nation with Stanford.

Ross has already been shut down by the Bears in the NCAA tournament. Baylor held Ross to 4 of 18 shooting and 10 points in an 88-67 first-round win in 2008, her last game as a freshman.

The winner will face either Georgetown or Marist in Monday's second round.