DES MOINES, Iowa — Glory Johnson went to sleep on Brittney Griner and Baylor.
It was Saturday afternoon and Johnson, Tennessee's senior forward, was relaxing in her hotel room, watching Griner and the Lady Bears wallop Georgia Tech in an NCAA women's basketball tournament game. In dozing off, she missed Griner's two-handed dunk.
"I kind of wanted to see it because everyone is talking about it," Johnson said.
A day later, Johnson and
the rest of the Lady Vols were bracing for their turn against the tournament's prohibitive favorite. And their eyes were wide open.
No. 2 seed Tennessee (27-8) and top-seed Baylor (37-0) meet in the final of the Des Moines Regional on Monday at Wells Fargo Arena (TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.). The winner advances to the Final Four in Denver.
"You have to maintain confidence and focus on your game plan,'' said Johnson, one of four UT seniors who hasn't reached a Final Four, "and focus on not being intimidated about any blocks at all."
The latter thought was a tribute to Griner, whose presence looms over this tournament. In three games, the 6-foot-8 junior center is averaging 24.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and five blocks per game. She picked up the pace against Tech, scoring 35, grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking six shots and, of course, producing the rim-rattling highlight.
The Lady Vols are very familiar with Griner, having faced her four times in the past three seasons. She's scored as many as 27 points in a game against them and blocked 10 shots.
Furthermore, they are aware of how much both she and her team can evolve during the course of a season. Two seasons ago, Baylor lost in November at Tennessee but bounced the Lady Vols from the tournament in the Sweet 16 round.
UT assistant coach Dean Lockwood said that Baylor's perimeter defense has improved this season since its 76-67 victory in Knoxville on Nov. 27. And forward Destiny Williams has a bigger scoring presence, as evidenced by her 18 points and 9-for-10 shooting against Georgia Tech.
Lockwood noted a similar arch, however, in the Lady Vols' evolution.
"Defensively, we're a lot better,'' he said. "I think we have more people who are more confident and fit into their roles more comfortably."
Tennessee's chances against Baylor depend on how comfortable and productive its outside shooters can be.
Guards Meighan Simmons and Ariel Massengale, who likely will replace seniors Briana Bass and Alicia Manning in the starting lineup tonight, combined to score 34 points and shoot 12 for 25 from the floor in Saturday's 84-73 victory over Kansas. They didn't look anything like the players who had five points and shot 2-for-22 in November against Baylor.
Massengale scored all of her 12 points in the second half, after being implored by the seniors to take her best shot.
"They got on me,'' Massengale said, "They said, 'They're leaving you open. We need you to be a threat.' They had confidence in me so I had to go out and have confidence in myself."
The seniors might want to repeat their advice to Massengale since fellow UT sharpshooter Taber Spani tweaked her left knee on Saturday. She was wearing an ice bag on the knee in the locker room on Sunday and said she's "not going to be 100 percent" against Baylor.
"Bottom line, you play against Brittney Griner, you have to make some perimeter shots,'' Lockwood said.
Defensively, Tennessee will have to account for Griner as well as Baylor's other scorers. But Lockwood said that the Lady Vols won't forsake their entire system.
"You have to tweak some things without going overboard," he said. "You don't need to throw out the whole house but we might need to change a panel here and there."
Senior Vicki Baugh could appreciate the sentiment since she was thinking along the same lines. Fitting that on Sunday she was talking about belief.
"I think we're putting too much emphasis on how we're going to adjust to them,'' she said, " and not enough on what we do and play our game."