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Kim Mulkey does not want you to praise her squad—at least not in November. "This team has done nothing to be mentioned in the same breath as UConn," Mulkey says. She will concede that her Lady Bears have more "talented depth" than her 2005 championship team. That and the presence of a transcendent star, 6'8" sophomore center Brittney Griner, who averaged 18.4 points and blocked an NCAA-record 223 shots as a freshman, make Baylor SI's pick to win the national title on April 5. Senior guard Melissa Jones (10.4 points) is a potential All--Big 12 performer, and the team adds two high-ceiling transfers: former Rutgers recruit Brooklyn Pope, a 6'1" sophomore forward who is the preseason Big 12 newcomer of the year, and Illinois transfer Destiny Williams, a 6'1" sophomore forward. Senior point guard Kelli Griffin's decision to quit the team a week before the regular season will cost the Lady Bears early, but freshman Odyssey Sims is the nation's top point-guard recruit and has the talent to dictate games on both ends with her quickness.
The Cardinal's Ogwumike sisters have athleticism, drive and scoring ability, but they don't have a collective nickname. "I'm looking forward to seeing how creative people can get," says Nnemkadi (Nneka) Ogwumike, the All-America junior forward (18.5 points, 9.9 rebounds) who is joined this season by her freshman sister, Chiney, a 6'3" forward whom Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw calls "spectacular." Stanford has another frontcourt star in senior forward Kayla Pederson, who averaged 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds and can play all five positions.
Coach Geno Auriemma knows what's coming: losses. "Anyone who has been around our program knows that when we have the best team, I tell everybody that we are better than everybody else and we're not going to lose," says Auriemma, whose Huskies enter the season with a 78-game unbeaten streak. "I don't know that the expectations should be less, but there are going to be some losses along the way." Even so, the Huskies have the best player in the country in senior Maya Moore, a three-time All-America who has averaged 18.7 points at UConn, and a potential second star in junior forward Tiffany Hayes. Auriemma is also high on freshman Bria Hartley, who will run the point.
The Musketeers have four starters back—including Amber Harris, Ta'Shia Phillips and a terrific point guard in junior Special Jennings—from an Elite Eight team that lost to Stanford on a buzzer-beating layup. Says coach Kevin McGuff, "The loss could have been an anchor that weighed on us, but it's been motivating. We got just enough of a taste of what we can accomplish."
Coach Pat Summit has the SEC's top backcourt (senior Angie Bjorklund and junior Shekinna Stricklen), as well as a slew of experienced, athletic forwards. "We have more depth than we probably anticipated," says Summitt.