Mulkey left as Baylor coach, but the Bears are still big favorites of the 12

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FILE – The Baylor women’s basketball team celebrates its tenth consecutive Big 12 regular season championship following an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State in Waco, Texas, this Saturday February 29, 2020, archive photo. The Bears are No.7 in the Associated Press’s preseason Top 25 and are still favorites to win the conference title under new coach Nicki Collen. (AP Photo / Rod Aydelotte, File)

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Longtime Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey has left for LSU, but the Bears are still the Big 12 favorites.

Mulkey led the Bears to three national championships and 23 combined Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles.

Baylor is seventh in the Associated Press’s preseason Top 25 under new coach Nicki Collen. The Bears feature AP All-American preseason NaLyssa Smith, preseason center Queen Egbo and some talented transfers.

Smith, who averaged 18.0 points and 8.9 rebounds last season, said expectations inside the program had not changed.

“We’re all here to win a national championship at the end of the day,” she said. “I have a feeling that all the changes aren’t really going to affect them drastically. We’re all here to play basketball. So at the end of the day we’re trying to get a natty, so that’s our biggest goal. ”

Other programs seem capable of ending the Bears’ 11 straight regular season title streak. Iowa state and Texas tied for second in the Big 12 preseason poll, and both received first-place votes.

Iowa State includes guard Ashley Joens, who led the conference and placed fifth nationally with 24.2 points per game last season. Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly considers her one of the best players in the country.

“I think it always starts with your backcourt and a great player, and we have it,” he said.

The 12th-ranked Cyclones also sack goalkeeper Lexi Donarski, last season’s Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

Texas, ranked 25th, reached the Elite Eight last season under freshman coach Vic Schaefer. Point guard Joanne Allen-Taylor is back, and a strong recruiting class bolsters the program’s hopes.

No.19 West Virginia was picked fourth. Esmery Martinez leads the way after averaging 13.6 points in an all-conference season.

The team to watch could be Oklahoma, although longtime coach Sherri Coale has retired. Former Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk has taken over and has high expectations from the start.

Madi Williams is back after finishing third in the conference with 20.3 points per game. Taylor Robertson returns after averaging 16.0 points and finishing fourth nationally with 3.6 points scored at 3 points per game. Another star, Ana Llanusa, missed last season with an undisclosed injury. She averaged 15.4 points in 2019-20 and was a second-team All-Big 12 pick the year before.

Baranczyk said the trio have adapted well to their positionless basketball system.

“As a collective, I was so impressed with their openness,” said Baranczyk. “They established their games, they established their names, but they continue to work on their game, which is something that has been impressive as a new coach and trying to implement a different system. They have just been completely thoroughly.

TALENTOUS NEW ARRIVAL

Baylor has the preseason newcomer of the year in transfer graduates Jordan Lewis, who averaged 17 points and 4.2 assists for Alabama last season. She left the Crimson Tide as the ninth all-time top scorer with 1,464 points and ranks fifth in Alabama history in assists.

SUPERIOR TRANSFER

Ja’Mee Asberry, who averaged 17 points per game at Oklahoma State last season, has transferred to Baylor. She shot 42% from 3 points last season.

“Ja’mee has the ability to play on and off the ball, and she will suit our attacking style perfectly,” Collen said when the move was announced. “She’s a tough kid who got better every year, and we look forward to seeing her continued growth here at Baylor, on and off the pitch.”

TO EXCEED THE LIMITS

Texas has the first year of pre-season of the year in Aaliyah Moore, who played for Moore High School in Moore, Oklahoma. She was the Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year in her last two seasons and was one of the nation’s top rookies in her class. As a senior, she averaged 25.2 points and 11.6 rebounds.

POINTING MACHINE

TCU’s Lauren Heard is back after finishing second in the Big 12 with 21.2 points per game last season. The graduate student has been a selection for the Big 12’s first team for the past two years. Last season, she was part of the conference’s all-defensive squad.

OTHER BEST RETURNS

Vivian Gray moved from Oklahoma State to Texas Tech as a graduate transfer last season and averaged 19.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Now the 6-foot-1 guard is back for another year and is a preseason pick for all conferences.

Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee, a 6-6 center, averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds while setting a record 62 percent from the field last season. Kansas goaltender Holly Kersgieter averaged 17.4 points last season and shot 85 percent from the free throw line last season.

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.



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