Same top teams, same top players
NEW YORK (AP) -- Big 12 women's basketball is starting a new season that looks a lot like the old one.
Not only are the four teams that finished at the top of the standings last season expected to be there again, most of them have the same players. Fans might think they're watching a rerun.
Defending champion Oklahoma is the favorite and returns four starters, headed by All-American Stacey Dales. Texas Tech has four starters back after finishing second and Colorado returns all five starters from its fourth-place team.
Iowa State, which finished third and won the conference tournament, has just three starters back but one is center Angie Welle, a third-team All-American.
Yet even with all that talent and experience, nothing will be easy for anyone, Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale warns.
"It is awesome to compete in this league," Coale said. "I have never gone into postseason and felt unprepared and a lot of that has to do with the Big 12. There is no such thing as an easy game. It is a marathon."
Oklahoma was the best in the long run last season, going 15-1 in the conference, and is the favorite to finish in front again.
Dales is part of a talented cast that includes tenacious guard LaNeishea Caufield and 6-foot-1 Caton Hill, both second-team all-conference picks, and top reserve Rosalind Ross, whose 8.4 scoring average was the fourth best on the team.
Coale has engineered a spectacular turnaround in Norman and is doing nothing to tone down expectations this season. Besides, she feels the Sooners have something to prove after getting a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and then failing to advance beyond the regional semifinals.
"Do we have the best talent in America? No," she said. "Do we have a shot at winning the national championship? Absolutely. It is not always about talent in basketball. It is how you put those kids together and how those kids play together.
"We will not be the most talented team on the floor, but we could be the best."
Texas Tech and Colorado, among others, hope to have something to say about that.
Tech returns second-team all-conference pick Plenette Pierson and has one of the league's top young players in guard Jia Perkins, who averaged 13.6 points and 3.8 assists as a freshman. Though coach Marsha Sharp has three seniors who started last season, nine of her 14 players are freshmen and sophomores.
"We're not going to have the sophomores come off the bench," Sharp said. "I imagine we will start at least three of them."
Colorado, which rallied to a 22-9 record after three straight mediocre seasons, has the league's most experienced team. Jenny Roulier, Mandy Nightingale and Britt Hartshorn all had double-figure scoring averages last season and Roulier played for the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the World University Games.
"I think we are going to get a lot more recognition this year, which will help our confidence as a team," Nightingale said.
"I personally don't want to be thought of as a player who was at Colorado when they were down. I want to be thought of as being a player who brought Colorado up to where its name should be."
Iowa State no longer has Megan Taylor, a tireless, four-year starter who set Big 12 career records for 3-point baskets and rebounding. But point guard Lindsey Wilson and versatile Tracy Gahan are back with Welle as starters and coach Bill Fennelly is looking at six newcomers for depth.
"We've got to keep Angie and Tracy and Lindsey on the court as much as possible and hope for the best," Fennelly said.
Baylor made great strides last season under first-year coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, improving from 7-20 to 21-9. The Lady Bears will be dangerous again with Sheila Lambert (22.1 ppg) and Danielle Crockrom (21.2) back as seniors.
Texas made the NCAA tournament with a 7-9 league record and looks to move up with 10 letterwinners back, including four starters. Oklahoma State, a WNIT participant last season, also returns four starters and welcomes back Tari Cummings after she sat out last season. Cummings averaged 17.9 points two years ago.
Missouri will miss Amanda Lassiter, who led the Tigers on a surprising run to the final 16 in the NCAA tournament, and Kansas is rebuilding after its first losing season (12-17) since 1988-89.
Kansas State, Texas A&M and Nebraska hope to make things tough for the upper echelon.
Kansas State has Nicole Ohlde, the Big 12's freshman of the year last season, and Nebraska expects help from two promising newcomers: JC transfer Keasha Cannon and prep All-American Katie Robinette. A&M needs to find some offense after losing Big 12 scoring champ Jaynetta Saunders.