- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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What's next after 40-0 for the Baylor women's basketball team? How about a little running-and-gunning with Kentucky? A journey to Hawaii, where Stanford awaits? A trip to Notre Dame for a rematch of the 2012 national championship game? A visit from a new-look Tennessee team?
All that will happen before December's over for defending NCAA champ Baylor, which hopes to end the 2012-13 season with another title -- this one in coach Kim Mulkey's home state of Louisiana.
And yes, we know that Mulkey strongly dislikes that term "defending." As she puts it, Baylor isn't defending anything, because it has already won the 2012 title and that can't be taken away. Regardless, the question "Can Baylor repeat?" is the biggest storyline going into the upcoming season.
For the third time, the Women's Final Four will be held in New Orleans, and the postseason road there should keep Baylor in pretty familiar territory. The Big 12 women's tournament will be back in Dallas, about an hour and a half north of Baylor's campus, for the first time since 2006. (This is the first year since the Big 12 formed in 1996-97 that the league's men's and women's hoops tournament are split up, as the men will play in Kansas City.)
The Lady Bears will be going for their fifth Big 12 tournament title. Baylor then will be a host for the early rounds of the NCAA women's tournament. After that, the NCAA regionals are in Oklahoma City; Spokane, Wash.; Norfolk, Va.; and Trenton, N.J. So if Baylor is the overall No. 1 seed again as it was in 2012 -- and advances out of the early rounds, of course -- the Lady Bears likely would head north for regional play in OKC (about a 4½-hour drive from Waco).
Admittedly, that's all quite a ways down the road. But it's easy to get caught up in looking ahead, considering that Baylor brings back all its starters, including reigning national player of the year Brittney Griner.
But let's back up and return to the beginning of the season, when Baylor plays back-to-back against Kentucky (Nov. 13 in Waco, Texas) and Stanford (Nov. 16 in Honolulu). The Wildcats have made it to the NCAA Elite Eight two of the last three years, while Stanford has made five consecutive trips to the Final Four. (But can the Cardinal do it this season without Nneka Ogwumike?)
On Dec. 5, Baylor will take on a Notre Dame team that the Lady Bears defeated 80-61 last April at Denver's Pepsi Center in the national championship game. Then on Dec. 18, Tennessee -- another team knocked out of the 2012 NCAA tournament by Baylor, in the Elite Eight -- comes to the Ferrell Center under Holly Warlick, who officially took over as head coach after Pat Summitt moved to an emeritus role this spring.
As for Big 12 conference play, one of Baylor's biggest rivals in recent years is no longer involved. There will be no more grudge matches for the foreseeable future with Texas A&M, which left the Big 12 along with Missouri to join the SEC. Mulkey made it abundantly clear last year she wasn't keen on starting a nonconference series with the Aggies.
But Baylor will interrupt conference play to travel to Connecticut; that game will be Feb. 18.
The Lady Bears open Big 12 play with league newcomer TCU, the Fort Worth-based school that's had consistent success in women's hoops under coach Jeff Mittie but now will be playing on a bigger stage.
The other Big 12 newcomer, West Virginia (yes, it's still hard to believe), will get its "welcome to Waco" on Jan. 19.
Baylor's matchups against a Texas team starting a new chapter under coach Karen Aston are Feb. 9 in Austin and Feb. 23 in Waco. During Aston's years as an assistant, she had two stints working at Baylor.
The target will be on Baylor's back all this season -- but that's nothing new. It really was last season, too. Mulkey didn't try to lessen expectations in 2012, and after the NCAA title game, she was already looking ahead to making a run at New Orleans in 2013.
"That's my home state, and I won't have enough tickets for family," she said in Denver. "But I'll do something to get them in the arena. That's what we want, another national championship."