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WACO (AP) – Kim Mulkey has long anticipated how good Baylor could be this season.

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The coach who has two national titles with the second-ranked Lady Bears was already talking about the 2017 NCAA Final Four two seasons ago.

“I must say she’s a smart woman,” preseason All-America forward Nina Davis said with a smile.

Mulkey was enamored with what three sophomore starters, including All-Big 12 player of the year Davis, were already doing then. The coach also knew former Duke transfer Alexis Jones and two McDonald’s All-America post players would make their Baylor debuts last season, and two more prep All-Americans would join them this year.

That is the group on the court now, and it will get tested early.

“You are excited, but what’s taking over right now is not the excitement. It’s the energy it takes to get them all on the same page,” said Mulkey, going into her 17th season at Baylor. “I don’t care how talented they are. We’ve got to all be on the same page and we’ve got to all be clicking at some point.”

After the season opener Friday against Houston Baptist, the Lady Bears have consecutive games against No. 9 UCLA and at No. 3 Connecticut.

The Lady Bears have won the last six Big 12 championships. But they haven’t been to the Final Four since the 40-0 national title in 2012, and their last three seasons ended with losses in the Elite Eight.

“I’m probably more driven than ever,” Davis said. “I don’t think I ever wanted something as much as a national championship. … So I’m definitely motivated.”

While the Lady Bears could have used “Eight Is Not Enough” as a motto again, they have “Destination Dallas” this season.

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The Final Four next spring is about 100 miles from their campus in the NBA arena where they lost to Oregon State in the Elite Eight last March to finish a 36-2 season.

“You want them to take it a step further, and it would be fun in Dallas because it’s a place where a lot of people can get to, a lot of Baylor fans,” Mulkey said. “But we’d still have the same motivation if it was on the other side of the country.”

National assists leader Niya Johnson is gone, but Baylor returns seven of its top eight scorers — led by seniors Davis (16.3 points per game) and Jones (15.0 ppg), who’s had surgery on both knees before.

“I’m a lot healthier this year, not having a lot of knee pains,” said Jones, who tore her left ACL at Duke and had microfracture surgery on her right knee during her redshirt year after transferring. “I’m at full-go, no issues right now. I’ve been in treatment a lot, I ice probably about five times a day.”

Jones and returning starting guard Kristy Wallace will both get time at the point spot.

Kalani Brown, a 6-foot-7 post who is now 20 pounds lighter, averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds a game as a freshman while starting only one game last season. Beatrice Mompremier, the other big freshman, scored 7.2 points a game and matched Davis with a team-leading 6.1 rebounds.

“We don’t make it as far as we did without both of them,” Mulkey said. “I don’t start them together, but I darn sure could and I probably at some point will.”

Mompremier is healthy after surgery to repair an issue that caused her shoulder to pop out of place several times in high school and during her freshman season.

The freshmen this season are a trio of Texas players: 6-4 forward Lauren Cox, considered by many as the nation’s top recruit, along with 6-1 guard Natalie Chou and 5-9 guard Calveion “Juicy” Landrum from Waco.

“I plan to put them in the mix early,” Mulkey said. “They’re going to be three outstanding players for us.”

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