Griner, Baylor eye another national title

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Brittney Griner is going into her senior season at Baylor looking for another national championship.

Baylor's Brittney Griner looks to lead a team that returns all five starters from last year's undefeated, 40-win title run.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Baylor's Brittney Griner looks to lead a team that returns all five starters from last year's undefeated, 40-win title run.

The 6-foot-8 dunking Griner is already a two-time All-American for the Lady Bears, who return every starter from the NCAA’s first 40-win team. She is the only NCAA player with 2,000 career points and 500 blocked shots.

Coach Kim Mulkey’s Lady Bears had a clean sweep last season, going undefeated and being the No. 1 team all season.

Here’s a few things to look for this season.

STORYLINES

Can Baylor go undefeated again? Another 40-win season is out of reach for the Lady Bears. The only way they could play 40 games is with an extra game in the Big 12 Tournament, and for that to happen they’d have to lose a bunch of Big 12 games and finish in the bottom four of the Big 12 standings. That’s not going to happen with Griner, preseason All-America guard Odyssey Sims, seven other returning letter winners and an impressive five-player freshman class.

Third-time charm for Skylar Diggins? This is the senior season for Diggins, the All-America point guard who grew up in South Bend and has led Notre Dame to consecutive national runner-up finishes. The seventh-ranked Irish will depend heavily on Diggins and backcourt mate Kayla McBride after three other starters graduated.

Blue Hens soar? Led by Elena Delle Donne, the nation’s leading scorer (28.1 ppg) and a unanimous preseason All-American, Delaware won 31 games before losing in the NCAA second round. The Blue Hens return all five starters. Before they likely dominate the Colonial Athletic Association, they have non-conference tests against No. 5 Maryland and at No. 14 St. John’s.

Over the Summitt? For the first time since 1973-74, Tennes­see opens a season without Pat Summitt as its head coach. There’s still a familiar face with Holly Warlick, who played for Summitt and was an assistant coach for 27 years. The Lady Vols are No. 20, their lowest ranking since 1985, with two seniors and one junior. Summitt, who won 1,098 games and eight national titles in 38 seasons, is head coach emeritus. She was diagnosed before last season with dementia and stepped down in April.

BIG GAMES

No. 3 Duke and No. 5 Maryland get to play at least twice in the ACC. No. 12 Oklahoma gets a couple of chances against Baylor in the Big 12, and as Sooners senior guard Whitney Hand said, “The more familiar with them you are, the less that jersey beats you.”

Connecticut and Notre Dame play in a Big East opener Jan. 5, then again in the regular-season finale two months later – the same for Notre Dame vs. Connecticut. Pac-12 teams Stanford and California play consecutive games against each other in a six-day span in January.

There will be some big nonconference matchups long before the NCAA tournament, including a couple to open the season:

No. 6 Kentucky at No. 1 Baylor, Nov. 13. Quick early test for SEC favorite Wildcats, with their highest ranking ever.

Rematch of last year’s NCAA semifinal game when No. 1 Baylor plays No. 4 Stanford in Hawaii, Nov. 16. The Lady Bears won 59-47 in Denver.

Rematch of last season’s NCAA title game, Baylor at No. 7 Notre Dame, Dec. 5. The Irish lost 80-61 at Denver.

Connecticut at Stanford, Dec. 29. A post-Christmas Final Four preview of teams that were on opposite sides of the bracket last season?

Baylor at Connecticut, Feb. 18. A mid-February matchup of undefeated teams?


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