By Krista Pirtle
After the Baylor Lady Bears’ national championship in 2005, the team lost four seniors, two of them starters.
The next season, Baylor fell in the Sweet Sixteen to Maryland 82-63.
“As you motivate returning players that haven’t lost in 40 games, there’s only been four teams in the history of women’s basketball that have won back to back,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “We would like to throw that out there to get in that company: Louisiana Tech, USC, Tennessee and Connecticut. It would be an honor for us to be one of the handfuls to say they’ve won back to back.”
Complacency will be the team’s biggest enemy this season if they aren’t careful.
“I don’t think it’s an issue at all,” senior Brittney Griner said. “When you’ve got Coach Mulkey as your coach, complacency is the last thing in the world you think about. I don’t see anybody just being like that, so we’re eager to get better and get back to where we were when we ended last year.”
Mulkey is confident that she won’t be the only motivator for her team to compete at its best.
“All I know to do is go back to work, and I just have a way to make them stay hungry and humble,” Mulkey said. “Even if I didn’t have a personality to do that, the schedule will do that. The schedule will get their attention. You look at who we’ve put on the schedule; we can’t pat ourselves on the back. We’ve got to come to work and be as motivated and as hungry and not allow complacency to everyset it.”
Mulkey mentioned reading an article where Alabama head football coach Nick Saban coached about motivating his players against the “success flu.”
The team finished its business last year but now, it’s motto is Back 2 Business: back-to-back, two in a row and the business from last year.
Going through last season undefeated is something that isn’t mentioned amongst the team.
“Certainly you want to win a conference championship,” Mulkey said. “You want to win a conference tournament championship. And then you want to win the national championship. Nowhere in there will we ever talk about the win streak. Its not in the notebook anywhere. It’ll be on the championship rings, and that’s the extent of when they’ll see it. I’m not into win streaks. I’m into championships.”
Last season’s starting five is back for more, and the team returns 90.4 percent of its scoring and 86.8 percent of individual rebounds.
“Well, today, we’re not the same team that we were last year,” Mulkey said. “We have obviously a lot of the same players. We’re not the same team. As I challenged the team yesterday before we began practice I said ‘Let’s not talk about what we’ve done. Let’s talk about where we’re going.’”
However, the addition of five freshmen adds a unique twist to the No. 1 team in the nation.
Destiny Brown, 5-foot-10-inch guard from Pennsylvania, is No. 39 among guards in the nation according to ESPN HoopGurlz.
She is also the goddaughter of Richard (Rip) Hamilton who played for the Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls.
Chardonae Fuqua’, 6-foot forward from Alabama, led her high school team to two state championships and also won some of her own in the high jump.
Kristina Higgins, 6-foot-five-inch post from El Paso, was ranked No. 57 overall and No. 9 at her position by ESPN HoopGurlz.
Niya Johnson, 5-foot-8-inch guard from Florida, was a 2012 McDonald’s All-American. She was ranked No. 43 overall and No. 8 at her position by ESPN Hoopgurlz.
Johnson played AAU ball with the final Baylor freshman, 6-foot-1-inch guard Alexis Prince.
Prince played on the 2012 USA U18 gold medal team this past summer and was also a McDonald’s All-American.
Per NCAA rules, teams are allowed to begin practice 40 days before the first game, as long as 10 days are taken off. While most other teams will start practice on Oct. 12, Mulkey wanted to “spread out the learning curve” for the freshmen.
“It’s hard [guarding Sims],” Johnson said. “She’s fast. She teaches me the defensive side of everything, so I’ll be able to guard her. One day.”
Defense has always been where the Lady Bears find their identity. This season it’s Back 2 Business as Baylor will be defending both the court and its title.