BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) — Brittney Griner banged a bit down low with her undersized opponents and blocked a few shots at the other end—then headed to the sideline early in the second half.
Once again, Baylor didn't need its star to dominate.
Griner scored 14 points in only 22 minutes, and the top-seeded Lady Bears rolled to an 81-40 win over 16th-seeded UC Santa Barbara in the Des Moines Regional on Sunday. Brooklyn Pope scored 13 points and Destiny Williams added 12 for Baylor, which had 11 players log at least 12 minutes.
Emilie Johnson led UCSB with 10 points while Kirsten Tilleman and Jackie Luna-Castro added eight apiece for UCSB. The Gauchos finish the season after a remarkable run to the NCAA Tournament at 17-16 overall. Santa Barbara won nine of its final 12 games under first-year head coach Carlene Mitchell and captured the Big West Tournament title after entering the conference tourney as a No. 6 seed. UCSB became the lowest-seeded team in Big West history to win the conference title.
It was the 14th time UCSB has appeared in the NCAA Tournament while it was Baylor's 11th time in The Dance. UCSB's record is now 7-14 all-time in NCAA Tournaments.
"I think the more rest you can get, the better, but make sure you get them enough minutes not to get out of rhythm," coach Kim Mulkey said. "I thought our kids worked up a sweat, and I thought they did some good stuff. We didn't have to show a lot of stuff—and get them off the floor. We've actually done that a lot of late."
Baylor (35-0) has not lost since falling in the quarterfinals of last year's NCAA tournament. The Lady Bears will take on ninth-seeded Florida in the second round on Tuesday night.
Griner, the towering center who wowed the crowd by dunking during warmups, went 7 for 11 during the game.
UCSB's Kirsten Tilleman was physical with Griner and drew an early offensive foul on the 6-foot-8 star. The Gauchos at times had two defenders fronting Griner to prevent Baylor from passing her the ball, but other players took advantage for the Lady Bears.
"We played against maybe the eventual national champion," UCSB coach Carlene Mitchell said. "We were outmanned, it's pretty obvious, at every position, and you have to give Baylor all the credit."
Griner scored 45 points in the Big 12 tournament against Kansas State, but in the two games since, she's scored only 25 points on 19 shots. That 86-65 victory over Kansas State was actually the closest game the Lady Bears have played this month.
Baylor's defense was stifling throughout. The Lady Bears scored the game's first 12 points, and the Gauchos struggled on several occasions to get a shot off before the shot clock expired.
Griner had an easier time finding space inside late in the first half, scoring back-to-back baskets. Then Odyssey Sims stole the ball from Johnson and went in for a layup to make it 41-14.
It was 46-16 at intermission, and Griner spent most of the second half relaxing on the sideline. The Lady Bears seemed most excited after a last-minute 3-pointer by guard Lindsay Palmer, who had scored only 16 points all season.
Baylor's reserves had an extended chance to shine in this one.
"Lindsay's 3 was amazing," Griner said. "It's good to see them out there. … They fight so hard in practice every day against us, and we just—we both get better and it shows."
Sims scored 10 points but didn't start in what Mulkey called a "coach's decision."
"It's a very minor thing, but I'm from the old school, and you do things right," Mulkey said. "She knows why she didn't start. It's really not a big deal. Most coaches would have looked the other way, but it's all about teaching kids lessons."
Baylor set a school record for wins, breaking last season's mark of 34. The Lady Bears figure to be tested at some point, but the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed had little to worry about Sunday. Baylor's most anxious moment may have come in the first half when Sims fell hard after being fouled on a fast break, but she seemed fine.
The Gauchos finished sixth in the Big West during the regular season before winning the conference tournament. They played some low-scoring games earlier, such as a 46-37 loss to Washington back in November, but UCSB couldn't keep this one under control. The Gauchos shot 16 of 60 from the field and had two players foul out.