- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 19, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO. (AP) - Baylor coach Kim Mulkey has a top team, a top player and a gnawing pet peeve in the form of Texas A&M.

Texas A&M, the defending national champion, is leaving the Big 12 after this season. Leaving behind storied rivalries that date back generations, the Aggies are joining the Southeastern Conference in a move that may be soon be duplicated by Missouri, another charter member of the Big 12.

Asked if she would schedule Texas A&M in a non-conference game, Mulkey recalled that A&M president R. Bowen Loftin has likened the action to a divorce. She then pulled no punches in noting that she’s had personal experience with the breakup of a marriage.

“My feeling is this,” Mulkey said Wednesday during the Big 12’s media day. “If a man wants to divorce me and says our relationship has no value to him, and then he asks me if he can sleep with me, the answer is, `No!’”

Kansas coaches have also said they would not want to schedule archrival Missouri if the Tigers leave the Big 12. Aggies coach Gary Blair says the pain of rejection is not the only factor involved.

“I understand the feelings of everybody,” Blair said. “A lot of it, not playing, it could be said, is about recruiting. Throw all that other hogwash out the window. It’s about recruiting. My phone number hasn’t changed. I’ll play anybody any time.”

But Blair, whose Aggies beat Notre Dame last year in the championship game, said scheduling “takes two to dance.”

“I’m not going to get in and be the wordsmith with Kim on how she feels,” he said.

A year ago following the departure of Nebraska and Colorado, Texas A&M helped hold the Big 12 together by agreeing with other big-time football powers to stick it out. Now the Aggies are getting ready for their Big 12 farewell tour.

“Last year, everybody loved us,” Blair said. “This year everybody says we’re the villain. But I’m not going into that because (realignment) is all about football. It has nothing to do with women’s basketball or equestrian or anything else. It’s about football. It’s about television sets, money, and it’s about egos.”

Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson agreed.

“And I’m not sure ego is No. 3,” she said.

One thing Mulkey’s Lady Bears will be counting on from the Aggies this season is motivation.

After beating Texas A&M three times last year, the old rivals met for a fourth time in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament and the Lady Bears were ousted 58-46. Mulkey wasn’t happy about the NCAA’s decision to put her top-seeded team in the same bracket with its Big 12 foe, and she even drew a public reprimand from the NCAA for her comments.

Now comes this year’s version of the Lady Bears, who were picked to win the Big 12 and will have four starters back, including 6-8 junior Brittney Griner.

“I don’t know that I’ll have to say a lot,” Mulkey said. “I think when you have a goal to win a national championship and you don’t reach that goal, that if you’re any kind of a competitor, the hunger should be there. I don’t imagine that I’m going to have to do a lot of motivating to remind them that isn’t it sad when a 34-3 record is not good enough.”

All Griner did last year was average 23 points and 7.8 rebounds while leading the nation with 170 blocked shots.

She has impacted the Big 12 in many ways.

“I think the whole league went out and tried to find somebody that could defend her and slow her down a little bit,” said Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke. “But she changed the game. She changed how you attack Baylor because you know, offensive rebounding against Baylor and there she is and you don’t get any put-backs against them.”

Texas A&M lost standout Danielle Adams, but returns three starters and was picked runner-up in the preseason poll.

“We’re looking forward to defending the national championship,” Blair said.

No. 3 in the league’s preseason poll is Texas, with four returning starters from last year’s 19-14 team, including seniors Ashley Gayle, Yvonne Anderson and Ashleigh Fontenette. Also back is 5-10 sophomore Chassidy Fussell, who averaged more than 16 points as a freshman.

Oklahoma, picked No. 4, will see the return of Whitney Hand, who tore an ACL in November 2009.

“I can tell you that she has healed. She is moving well. She looks much more like the Whitney Hand you saw as a true freshman,” coach Sherri Coale said. “I don’t know if any of us realized the pain she was in last year. What I see now is a kid who is really comfortable in her own skin as a basketball player. Having her back and healthy is a huge breath of fresh air for everyone.”

Iowa State was No. 5 in the preseason poll, followed by Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Missouri.

Henrickson could have her best Kansas team yet, led by a player-of-the-year candidate in 6-3 junior Carolyn Davis, who averaged 19 points last year.

“If you look at her numbers, you’d think she must get twice as many shots as anybody else,” said Henrickson. “But when you shoot it as well as she does, it doesn’t take as many to put up big numbers for her.”

If Missouri also heads off to the SEC, it could spell the end of another old and colorful rivalry with Kansas. Henrickson said she would agree with Kansas men’s coach Bill Self, who has said he would not schedule the Tigers if they leave.

“Our rivalry belongs in the Big 12,” she said.

Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly, who is being treated for a cancerous lesion on his vocal cords, did not attend the media day.

“He still talks and he still yells,” Iowa State sophomore Hallie Christofferson said with a grin. “But he uses a microphone and just gets everybody else going.”

Coale said she’s been in almost daily contact with the 16-year Iowa State coach.

“He’s doing well,” she said. “He’s a fighter by nature. He gets irritated that he can’t do everything. But optimistic, upbeat _ That’s him. That’s who he is.”