BOULDER, Colo. — Many in the crowd at the Coors Events Center came to see jaw-dropping sophomore Brittney Griner, and her dominant play at both ends helped No. 3 Baylor overcome a first-half letdown to rout Colorado 81-59.
The opponent with her own cheering section, however, was Bears senior Melissa Jones, who starred at Legacy High School in Thornton, about 15 miles down the road.
Still blinded in her right eye by a hard fall a week earlier, Jones couldn't match Griner's 26-point, 13-rebound effort. But her presence Saturday gave the Bears (28-2, 15-1 Big 12) a spark nonetheless.
"That just tells you what kind of kid she is," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "She was cleared by the doctor to play. This is her home. This is her last time to play here and that's emotional. And she must have had 100 people here just to see her. For her to go out on that floor as our captain and as the type of player that she is, just her presence makes us better."
Donning shades to protect her good eye, Jones returned to Baylor's starting lineup a week after hitting her head on the floor in a game against Oklahoma.
Jones, who averages nearly 10 points, missed her only shot and didn't get to the foul line. She grabbed three rebounds, dished out two assists and had one steal in 24 inspiring minutes.
"That's the big thing about basketball: obviously, you have to score more points than the opponent, but not everybody has to score," Jones said. "There's so much more you can do in a game, whether it's blocking somebody out or rebounding. All the little things around the play, that's what I was trying to do."
Her return and resiliency meant a lot to her teammates.
"She's just showing how tough she is playing with one eye," Odyssey Sims said. "And her playing showed her love for us."
Jones said she still can't see out of her injured eye but doctors have said her vision should return by the time the Bears head to Kansas City next week as the top seed in the Big 12 conference tournament.
"It hurts me just to sit out at all so just the ability to even step foot on the floor was a great uplift," Jones said.
Sims added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Bears, whose 15th win in Big 12 play is one better than their 2005 national championship team.
Brittany Spears scored 23 points for Colorado (15-14, 6-10), which trimmed an early 20-point deficit to 34-28 at the break but couldn't make another run after halftime without sophomore guard Chucky Jeffery. The Buffaloes' second-leading scorer and top rebounder was attending her great grandmother's funeral in New York.
"It's a huge difference," Colorado coach Linda Lappe said. "She's a scorer and she kind of gets us into what we need to do. Defensively, she usually gets us a couple steals. ... In the first half, we stayed right with them rebounding-wise, but in the second half they took it to us and I think she would have helped a lot."
Colorado fell behind 22-2, and Kimetria Hayden popped the net from beyond the arc to make it 30-10 with 7:22 left in the first half. The Bears would score just one more bucket the rest of the way while the Buffaloes were closing with an 18-4 run that made it 34-28 at halftime and energized the crowd of 6,102 — the biggest for a women's game here in seven years.
Sims said the Bears were fatigued and "stopped guarding people."Comment on this story
And that's a factor of youth, Mulkey suggested.
"We have one senior on the floor," Mulkey said, "and she's playing with one eye."
The Bears came out of the tunnel refreshed, regrouped and refocused, pushing their lead to 27.
With Griner in the way, the Buffaloes couldn't get to the line. Their first free throws came with 9:21 left in the game. They were outscored 26-6 from the foul line and 38-12 in the paint, both testaments to Griner's dominance inside.
"She's a big presence," Jones said. "She's changing the game of basketball."