Dallas With Brittney Griner and all the starters back from Baylor’s 40-0 season, the race in the Big 12 likely will be for second behind the Lady Bears.
It is no surprise that Baylor is the overwhelming favorite to win the league again — and perhaps a second consecutive national title.
“I think all of us will make the most of our opportunity to step on the floor and tip it up and play against arguably the best team in America,” Kansas University coach Bonnie Henrickson said Thursday during the league’s media day. “But there are a handful of us that it will be a dogfight to finish either right around them in second, third or fourth.”
Baylor received the maximum nine first-place votes in the preseason voting by league coaches, who weren’t allowed to vote for their own team. Baylor has won the last two Big 12 titles.
The preseason vote had Oklahoma and West Virginia tied for second, followed by Kansas, which returns four starters from a team that won two games in the NCAA tournament. The rest of the picks, in order, were Texas, Iowa State, defending WNIT champion Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU.
“I can tell we’re more competitive in practice,” Henrickson said. “They demand more from themselves and each other. And that started, quite honestly, when the (NCAA) tournament was over. Within 24 hours, we had a bunch of those guys back in the gym. There hadn’t been much dust that had settled, and that work has continued until we started.”
The only women’s team in the Big 12 that didn’t have a winning record last season was Missouri, which is now in the SEC with Texas A&M, which won the national championship representing the Big 12 two seasons ago. League newcomers West Virginia and TCU both have at least four returning starters after having winning records last season.
This will be the senior season for the 6-foot-8 Griner, the two-time All-American who was the AP player of the year last season.
Through her first three years at Baylor, Griner has averaged 21.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game with a Big 12-record 594 blocked shots. She is the first NCAA player with 2,000 career points and 500 blocked shots.
“Griner makes them special and unique,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said the goal isn’t and never was to go undefeated. The only goal is to win championships, including six games in the NCAA Tournament.
The Lady Bears can’t win 40 games again since there is no possibility for them to play that many games this season.
But can somebody keep them from winning every game again?
“They’re coming off an undefeated season last year, and certainly they’re the team to beat in our league,” said Coale, who returns all five starters. “But they’re human.”