The driving focus for Baylor is to finish the job with a national championship this season. Brittney Griner and the Lady Bears are off to dominating start.
Griner began her junior season with 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots and Baylor easily won its first season opener as a No. 1 team, beating Howard 82-28 in a preseason WNIT game Friday night.
"It feels good to be back on the court," Griner said. "Definitely, I remember that last game, I wish we could start in March."
The Lady Bears scored the game's first 28 points, nine by Griner, the 6-foot-8 phenon who was a unanimous preseason AP All-America selection.
During pregame, the Lady Bears unveiled three more banners in the rafters — one each for their Big 12 regular season championship, Big 12 tournament title and making it to another NCAA regional final.
Then before the Baylor starting lineup was introduced, the lights went down and a video played on the screen over midcourt. It was a pre-recorded segment of coach Kim Mulkey in the locker room with her team, talking about the 34 wins last season being most in Big 12 history and then reminding the players that they didn't get the ultimate prize.
"That's probably a pretty realistic pregame, preseason speech with a few choice words missing," Mulkey said after the opener, her 299th career victory. "For the most part, I was very comfortable doing it because that's our message. We didn't finish what we started last year. ... If you're any kind of competitor, you want to remember that feeling."
Baylor lost in the regional final last March to eventual national champion Texas A&M, the Big 12 rival the Lady Bears defeated three previous meetings last season.
Odyssey Sims added 15 points and four assists against Howard.
About the only thing missing for Griner was a dunk, and she passed up a chance for the sixth of her college career in the first half. Griner was open underneath the basket and took a step before laying the ball in for a 32-5 lead.
"When you're playing the No. 1 team in the country, and there's not another team in the country that has a 6-8 in the middle who can do what she does," Howard coach Niki Reid Geckeler said. "They came out and controlled the game from the beginning."
One game into her junior season, Griner has 401 career blocks, only 45 shy of matching the Big 12 record held by Oklahoma's Courtney Paris. Griner was 10-of-13 shooting and played only 26 minutes for her 27th double-double in 73 career games.
Mulkey started her 12th season at Baylor, which had never won a Big 12 title and was coming off a seven-win season when she arrived. They Lady Bears have now won 48 consecutive non-conference games at home since 2006.
They know the competition will get much tougher.
Baylor could play No. 2 Notre Dame in the WNIT championship game next weekend, and are already set to play No. 3 Tennessee and No. 4 Connecticut before Christmas. Next is Chattanooga on Sunday at home.
Howard missed its first 15 shots before Nicole Deterville made a jumper while being fouled with 8:51 left in the first half. Her free throw made it 28-3.
Baylor was up 11-0 when Jordan Madden made a 3-pointer off an inbound pass from Sims, who soon after that passed inside to Griner for a basket that made it 15-0. A couple of minutes later, with teammates on the bench counting down the shot clock, Sims passed inside to Pope for a 22-0 lead.
Saadia Doyle, the MEAC player of the year last season as a sophomore, thought she had an inside lane to Howard's first basket — then was blocked by Griner, who then scored at the other end while being fouled and made the free throw that made it 28-0.
"I just want them to play hard, don't look at the scoreboard," Mulkey said. "It's always a good start when you win. You're not going to walk out on the floor and be the same team that finished last year. We're not a polished team yet by any means. But the talent is there, the effort is there."
It was Baylor's most dominating start in a game since taking a 24-2 lead in the first 8 minutes against Texas State in January 2010. The Lady Bears led that game 47-5 at halftime.
The Lady Bears had a 42-7 lead against Howard, the MEAC tournament runner-up last season during a 16-18 season. Howard made only 3 of 33 shots before halftime, and finished shooting 16 percent overall (10 of 64).
Doyle, who led the MEAC in scoring (18.4 points per game) and was second in rebounding (8.9) last season, finished with five points and five rebounds. Tamoria Holmes led Howard with nine points while making only 4 of 21 shots (0 for 8 on 3-pointers).
Baylor led 1-0 even before the opening tipoff. Howard was assessed a technical foul for not turning in its starting lineup within 10 minutes of the start of the game, and Kimetria Hayden made one of two free throws.