Women's hoops season starts with 14 ranked games
A couple of the biggest stars in women's basketball helped their top teams cruise to easy victories as the season got under way Friday.
No. 1 Baylor routed Howard 82-28, scoring the game's first 28 points, and second-ranked Notre Dame forced 46 turnovers to beat Akron 81-61. The top two teams are on a collision course to meet in the Preseason WNIT final next Sunday.
''It's like where did my summer go, it's hard to believe it's here again,'' Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. ''But at the same time, it's exciting. You're excited to get another season started.''
Preseason All-Americans Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins got off to fast starts. The 6-foot-8 Griner had 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks for the Lady Bears. Diggins had 21 points and eight assists for the Irish.
During a pregame ceremony, the Lady Bears unveiled three more banners in the rafters - one each for their Big 12 regular-season championship, Big 12 tournament title and making it to another NCAA regional final.
Before Baylor's starting lineup was introduced, the lights went down and a video played on the screen over midcourt. It was a pre-recorded segment of Mulkey in the locker room with her team, talking about the 34 wins last season being most in Big 12 history and reminding the players that they didn't get the ultimate prize.
''That's probably a pretty realistic pregame, preseason speech with a few choice words missing,'' Mulkey said following her 299th career victory. ''For the most part, I was very comfortable doing it because that's our message. We didn't finish what we started last year. ... If you're any kind of competitor, you want to remember that feeling.''
Notre Dame also fell short of its goal last season, losing in the NCAA title game. The Irish struggled offensively in the opener against Akron, committing 27 turnovers, and were outrebounded 44-38, but their defense was way too much for the Zips.
''We lost the last (NCAA championship) game last year,'' Diggins said. ''Maybe we were trying to win the championship game tonight, because we were playing tight.''
The only matchup of the 15 ranked teams that played Friday was No. 5 Stanford's 72-59 victory at 24th-ranked Texas. The Cardinal were missing senior star Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who was held out of the game with an upper body injury. Ogwumike was on the bench but not in uniform.
''I think this was an excellent test for our team,'' Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. ''They gave us a great battle.''
Eighth-ranked Duke had the toughest test, needing to rally to beat BYU 61-55. Sophomore guard Chelsea Gray scored 13 of her 15 points in the second half and had a career-high six steals.
Miami, the Blue Devils' ACC rival, easily won its opener. The seventh-ranked Hurricanes beat Texas-Pan American 83-37 for their 25th straight home win.
The Hurricanes, who have their best ranking since they finished the 1992 poll at No. 6, were led by their first preseason All-American Shenise Johnson. She had 20 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
In a non-ranked game, Villanova beat Michigan State 75-64 in the Iona tournament. It was the 599th win for Wildcats coach Harry Perretta, who will try to become the 22nd Division I coach to reach 600 victories on Saturday when Villanova takes on the host school.
''It just really means I've been here for a while,'' Perretta said. ''Coaches don't win games, players do, and I've been blessed to have some really good players.''
Villanova only averaged 51 points last season and Perretta credits the offensive outburst to finally having more depth.
''We actually have a bunch of players who can score,'' he said. ''We don't have to slow things down.''
Iona topped North Carolina A&T 85-69 in the opener that began at 11:11 a.m.
AP Basketball Writer Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas contributed to this report.
Doug Feinberg can be reached at http://twitter.com/dougfeinberg