WACO, Texas (AP) Welcome back Alexis Jones, just in time for top-seeded Baylor to start another women's NCAA Tournament at home.
Jones, a senior guard who hasn't played in nearly a month because of a bone bruise in her surgically repaired left knee, is expected to be back on the court Saturday night when the top-seeded Lady Bears host SWAC Tournament champion and NCAA first-timer Texas Southern.
''I haven't noticed in the days that she's practiced since being cleared that she's any different than she was before,'' coach Kim Mulkey said Friday. ''I'm happy for her personally, and she makes us even better.''
The first two NCAA games at home are typically a warmup for the Big 12 regular season champion Lady Bears (30-3), who have won 10 straight tournament games in the Ferrell Center - by an average margin of 29 points. This is their fifth straight year hosting since their last Final Four, the 40-0 national championship in 2012. If they do win them, they'll advance to Oklahoma City.
In the first-round nightcap at Waco, eighth-seeded LSU (20-11) plays ninth seed California (19-13). The Golden Bears got their fifth NCAA bid in six seasons under newly engaged coach Lindsay Gottlieb, even though they followed a school-record 13-0 start by losing 13 of their last 19 games.
''I don't think we need to prove that we belong in the tournament, but we want to win the game,'' Gottlieb said. ''If you looked at the numbers and you really took what the committee said they were looking at, our 30-game resume compared very favorably with the other teams.''
Jones, who averages 13.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in her 26 games this season, last played at Texas on Feb. 20, when she got hurt early in the game.
''I'm feeling a lot better, and I'm excited to get back out there on the court,'' Jones said. ''I'm just happy and blessed that I'm able to come back and play again.''
Before transferring back to her home state of Texas, Jones tore her left ACL during her sophomore season at Duke. She redshirted at Baylor two years ago while recovering from the ACL surgery and having a microfracture procedure on her right knee.
Mulkey said she wasn't sure if Jones would start, but indicated that the guard would have no limits on how many minutes she can play.
''The game will dictate that,'' Mulkey said. ''I would expect her to be good to go.''
Some other things to know about the games in Waco:
WE'RE BACK: The coaches at Cal and LSU are both in their sixth seasons, and both last year missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time at their respective schools.
''I think it's a neat match-up in that I think both teams were really, really hungry to get back to the level that their programs expect,'' Gottlieb said.
On the way to its Final Four in 2013, California beat LSU in the Sweet 16.
''For (our players) to really take ownership of what happened last year with the injuries and then have that focus to make sure that we were in NCAA play, I commend these young ladies for doing that,'' LSU coach Nikki Fargas said.
ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE: Texas Southern (23-9) is clearly a big underdog for its first-ever NCAA Tournament game, but coach Johnetta Hayes-Perry believes the appearance ''sets the precedent'' for the future in recruiting and the returning players. The Tigers have only one senior.
''I want them to enjoy the experience but learn from the experience, to have some growth ... see how hard you have to work to get here and to win here,'' Hayes-Perry said.
BEEN A LONG TIME: For the first time in seven years, Baylor goes into the NCAA Tournament coming off a loss. After winning their seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title, the Lady Bears lost in the conference tournament finals for the first time in that span.
NOT TOO LONG AGO OUT WEST: The Pac-12 was still the Pac-10 when Fargas was head coach at UCLA from 2008-11, before going to LSU.
''Well, my roots are SEC, but my first head coaching job was in the Pac-10, now in the Pac-12, and so I have a great respect,'' Fargas said. ''Although I've been away, I still watch.''
Fargas, a Tennessee native, played for the Lady Vols from 1990-94, and was a graduate assistant for coach Pat Summitt in 1998-99.
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