Sports

With five starters back, Baylor women can shoot for 80-0

WACO -- How many people know exactly where they will be 365 days in advance?

The Baylor women's basketball team's day planner already has an entry for April 7, 2013: chasing a second straight national championship at the Final Four.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey's final words at Wednesday's title celebration at the Ferrell Center left no doubt.

"Get your tickets to New Orleans," Mulkey said to a standing ovation of around 2,500 fans. "See you next year."

With their win in Tuesday night's national championship game in Denver, the Bears became the first 40-0 team in collegiate basketball history.

But the best ever could get even better next season.

"We're going to be good," Mulkey said. "We can't hide it. I can't come in here next year and say: 'Oh, I hope we get to a Final Four.' The expectations are there. Had we not won a national championship this year, the expectations would be there. We are going to embrace it. And we are going to do it very humbly, not arrogantly."

With all five starters returning, led by Naismith Award winner Brittney Griner, Baylor will be a heavy favorite to repeat.

"We like the way it feels, and we want to do it again," Mulkey said.

Griner, who also won the Wade Trophy and was named an AP All-American and Final Four Most Outstanding Player, proved she was the best player in the country this year as a junior. But Baylor's strength is Griner's surrounding cast.

"You can't do this by yourself," Griner said. "No player can win it by herself. You have to have your team with you."

Odyssey Sims, also an AP All-American whom Mulkey called the best point guard in the nation, gained vital championship experience as a sophomore.

"We made history [Tuesday] night and went undefeated," Sims, from Irving MacArthur, said. "This is my first championship. I didn't win one in high school and [Griner, from Aldine Nimitz] didn't either. So it's a great feeling right now."

Mulkey put championship expectations on her 2012 squad before the season started, and the Bears followed through with perfection.

"She challenged us," said Destiny Williams, a starter who will be a senior next season. "I think that this team does a great job with challenges."

Hearing her coach immediately planning for next year in Louisiana pumped up Williams.

"Excited, just knowing that basketball is coming around soon, even though we just finished up the season," Williams said. "We will have to work hard in practice to get there. But to go to New Orleans [Mulkey's] hometown, she can show us a couple of places."

Baylor also has a strong recruiting class for 2013, including 2012 McDonald's All-American Game MVP Alexis Prince.

"[Our incoming players] want to win," Mulkey said. "They know there will be seniors on the squad next year who will be a year older. The more depth the better we are. The more depth, the better the competition. They knew when they signed to come here what their goals were, and they want to play for a national championship."

And Baylor already knows where it should be after that 2013 national championship game -- cutting down the nets.

Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @bshirley08

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