CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The move from the Big East to the Big 12 has made for many new experiences for all of West Virginia's athletic teams, but for the WVU women's basketball team today will not be one of them.
The Mountaineers travel to Waco, Texas, to play No. 1 Baylor (15-1, 5-0 Big 12), the reigning national champion, and national player of the year Brittney Griner, at 8 tonight. During its days in the Big East, a trip to play highly ranked Connecticut, Notre Dame and Rutgers teams featuring many of the best players in the country was an annual event. Now in the Big 12, the Bears occupy that spot on the West Virginia schedule.
"We went and played Connecticut at Connecticut and Notre Dame at Notre Dame," West Virginia coach Mike Carey told wvusports.com. "We've done this before. This is not the first time we've had to play the No. 1 or No. 2 team on their home floor."
The Bears themselves are not a new challenge for WVU. The Mountaineers lost to Baylor and Griner, then a sophomore, 82-68 in the 2011 NCAA women's tournament.
Since then, Baylor has posted a 40-0 undefeated season, including a national title in 2012, and brought back all five starters from that team for this season. The Bears' only loss this season came in November on a neutral court in Hawaii against then-No. 4 Stanford.
"They're No. 1 in the country for a reason," Carey said.
It would be easy to write off Baylor as a one-woman team with the honors and statistics Griner has accumulated in her three-plus seasons in Waco, but the Bears also feature perhaps the best point guard in the country in Odyssey Sims.
Griner is up to her old tricks this season, averaging 21.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks while Sims is Baylor's second-leading scorer with 12.3 points per game and is the Bears' best foul shooter, making 87.5 percent (35 for 40) this season in addition to leading the team with 35 steals.
"If not the best, [Sims is] one of the best in the country," Carey said. "She's very aggressive and makes them go. She is, in my opinion, their heart and soul where she sets the tone at the point."
West Virginia (11-5, 3-2 Big 12) has been led by the trio of Christal Caldwell, Taylor Palmer and Ayana Dunning so far this season. Caldwell leads the Mountaineers with 12.3 points per game while Palmer averages 11.9. Dunning is West Virginia's leading rebounder with 6.6 per game and scores 10.8 points per game.
Baylor is allowing just 52.3 points per game this season and owns an average scoring margin of plus-30.1 points. Dunning said getting into the paint is a must, Griner or no Griner.
"We have to go strong to the basket whether we see her or not," she said.
Reach Tom Bragg at tom.br...@wvgazette.com.