Baylor women going strong into Mulkey's 15th year
WACO, Texas (AP) The walls in coach Kim Mulkey's office are filled with pictures, banners and other memories from her 14 seasons with the Baylor Lady Bears, including two national championships, 11 other NCAA tournament appearances and 404 victories.
Prominent behind her desk is a framed piece recognizing the perfect 40-0 season completed just 2 1/2 years ago.
''I don't have one moment that's any more special than the other,'' Mulkey said. ''Everybody wants to talk about the first national championship (2005), where we came out of the blue and beat those seeds that were ranked higher than us. But that's not any more special to me than the 11 Big 12 championships that we have and winning with kids and teams after you suspend a player for something. All those things teach lessons.''
Even with the loss of two-time All-America guard Odyssey Sims from last season, the Lady Bears are eighth in the preseason AP poll.
''If you look at the rankings, not that I put much stock in them, but we're still there,'' Mulkey said. ''So we didn't go away. And I think that's the challenge as a coach, is it's hard as heck to build a program to get there. But it is much harder to maintain that. And I think that's the challenge every day as a coach, once you get there. ... You want to maintain a level of consistency. This is our 15th year, and we're still hanging around.''
Nina Davis, the undersized post who averaged 15 points and a Big 12-leading 8.9 rebounds a game as a freshman last season, is one of three returning starters along with junior point guard Niya Johnson and senior post Sune Agbuke. There are six other returning lettermen for the Lady Bears after going 32-5 and making it to the Elite Eight last season.
With Sims gone, the 5-11 Davis knows she needs to be more vocal and live up to the high standard she has already set.
''At times, I can play without emotion and I really don't like to be as vocal,'' Davis said. ''But I know that that's one of the main things in being a leader. You can't be a quiet leader.''
A few other things to know about the Lady Bears, who open the season at home Friday night against Oral Roberts:
SPREAD OUT SCORING: Baylor needs several players to make up for all the points Sims (28.5 points per game) and Makenzie Robertson (7.4 ppg) scored last season while combining for 158 of the team's 200 made 3-pointers. Johnson, who averaged 5.3 points and 6.6 assists, can take on more the scoring load. She can effectively shoot 3s, as can Alexis Prince, Imani Wright and Kristy Wallace, a freshman guard from Australia.
DISHING IT: Johnson still likes to help her other players score. ''I'd rather pass than shoot first. I just love to see my teammates score off my assists,'' she said. ''But now I don't have any choice but to shoot.''
PRINCE RETURN: Alexis Prince had a promising freshman season in 2012-13 before surgery to repair stress fractures in both feet, then played only four games last season before needing surgery on her left foot. After a medical redshirt, Prince is a third-year sophomore. ''Prince is very much a leader with her ability,'' Mulkey said.
BIG INSIDE: Experienced players Kristina Higgins and Khadijiah Cave, and 6-3 newcomer Micayla Buckner join returning starter Agbuke in the post.
''I don't know that there are many Big 12 teams that are better than our post players,'' Mulkey said. ''We have athleticism, I think we have big size in there, and I think our post game more so than last year, we've got to get production out of them.''
ROAD TESTS: Baylor will play eight of its 12 non-conference games at home. For the games away from the Ferrell Center, they go to Kentucky next week, play at Ole Miss and then face Syracuse and Michigan State in a tournament before Christmas in Florida.