WACO (AP) – Brittney Griner and Baylor are picking up right where they finished last season — at No. 1.
The Lady Bears are ranked at the top of the preseason women’s basketball poll by The Associated Press for the second straight year. Baylor had the No. 1 spot for the entire season last year en route to its second national championship and a 40-0 record.
“It’s a humbling honor, which we’ll embrace but it’s just that an honor. It doesn’t win basketball games. Our goal every year is to win championships,” coach Kim Mulkey said.
Baylor received all 40 first-place votes Saturday from a national media panel. The Lady Bears, who return all five starters including the 6-foot-8 Griner, joined Texas (1985 and 1986) as the only Big 12 schools to start the season at No. 1 in consecutive years.
Connecticut, Duke, Stanford and Maryland round out the first five.
Coach Geno Auriemma has a lot of optimism about his team this season that has lost in the Final Four the last two years. He’s telling anyone who will listen that his team is “really, really, really good,” and he believes they can win it all, even though defending national champion Baylor returns Griner.
“If everyone expected us to go to the Final Four and contend for a national championship without Maya Moore, isn’t the expectation level this year to go undefeated and win every game by 100,” he joked last week. “So, I might as well say, `Yeah, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Lady Bears and Huskies will play on Feb. 18.
Duke returns a talented inside-outside combination with center Elizabeth Williams and guard Chelsea Grey. Williams is still recovering from a stress fracture in her lower right leg — she played through it during the NCAA tournament.
Stanford, like Connecticut has made it to the past five straight Final Fours, yet is still looking for its first national championship since 1992. The Cardinal are led by versatile forward Chiney Ogwumike.
Brenda Frese may have her deepest team at Maryland, although the Terrapins took a hit when sophomore point guard Brene Moseley tore her left anterior cruciate ligament in a scrimmage Sunday.
There are high expectations at No. 6 Kentucky this year. The Wildcats were predicted to win the SEC and have their highest ranking in the preseason poll ever. Kentucky was sixth for a few weeks last season.
“Having a high ranking is a visible sign of the tremendous progress our program has made and we are working hard every day to make sure we are one of the best programs in the country at the end of the season,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
Notre Dame, Penn State, Louisville and Georgia round out the top 10. It’s Penn State’s highest ranking since 2004.
Delaware followed up its first appearance in the Top 25 last season with a No. 11 ranking in the preseason poll. The Blue Hens are once again led by star Elena Delle Donne, who helped the team win its first NCAA tournament game last season.
“People in the country have taken notice of Delaware, which is a great thing,” coach Tina Martin said. “This is great exposure for the University of Delaware, certainly, and we are proud that the committee and the panel that votes on this thinks so highly of us and holds us in such high regard at this point. But we have a lot to prove before we can consider ourselves as one of the top 11 programs in the country.”
Oklahoma, California, St. John’s and Texas A&M follow the Blue Hens.
Vanderbilt, West Virginia, Nebraska, Ohio State and Tennessee are the next five. It’s the Lady Vols’ lowest ranking in the preseason poll since the team wasn’t in the first poll ever in 1976-77. They’ve only been out of the Top 10 in the preseason one other time and that was in 1984-85.
Purdue, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Miami and DePaul round out the poll.
The Blue Demons are one of six teams in the poll not ranked at the end of last season. The others are Oklahoma, California, Vanderbilt, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State.
The Big East and SEC have five teams in the Top 25 with the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC each having four. Delaware is the only non-BCS school in the poll.