If most of the top 10 teams at the right look familiar, it's because seven of them appeared on the list before the start of last season. Parity is a word seldom heard in women's hoops. The rich just get richer. At Western Kentucky, All-America center Clemette Haskins graduated, but blue-chip freshman Terri Mann (page 102) is stepping in to replace her. And when Texas and Tennessee won the NCAA title, in 1986 and '87 respectively, they each had a freshman—Clarissa Davis for the Lady Longhorns and Tonya Edwards for the Lady Volunteers—good enough to win the Final Four MVP award.
That would seem to portend great things for the Lady Toppers, but Western Kentucky will need more than an omen going for it in April, because that month means two things to Texas coach Jody Conradt: spring cleaning and the NCAA tournament. She not only cleans her own office, she straightens up other coaches' offices at Texas as well. "If you open her desk drawer, you'll find all of her paper clips turned in the same direction," says Texas women's athletic director Donna Lopiano. Out on the court, you will also find Conradt's players turned in the same direction: toward the basket, that is, while running a patented Lady Longhorn fast break. Last spring, Texas didn't quite clean up; it was upset by Louisiana Tech in the NCAA semifinals. The Lady Horns' All-America forward a year ago, Andrea Lloyd, has gone, but the senior guards, Beverly Williams and Yulanda Wimbish, are back to engineer the break. When they aren't running, they'll look inside to Davis, who made All-America last season while averaging 18.6 points per game.
Tennessee coach Pat Head Summitt won her first national championship last year after seven unsuccessful trips to the Final Four. Two off-season developments may have hurt the Lady Vols' chances of repeating: forward Karla Horton got married in July and isn't returning to Tennessee, and last month another forward. Carla McGhee, broke her cheekbone and jaw in an auto accident. Her status is uncertain. Still, three of Tennessee's starting five—6'4" center Sheila Frost, forward Bridgette Gordon and guard Dawn Marsh—are back. Edwards, who came off the bench last season, will start at the other guard. High School Player of the Year Kris Durham, a 5'8" guard from Dunellen, N.J., strengthens the reserves.
Auburn will give the Lady Vols a strong challenge in the SEC, thanks to 6'3" junior center Vickie Orr, who last year averaged 16.7 points and 7.6 rebounds a game to lead the Lady Tigers to a 31-2 record and a tie with Texas for the best won-lost percentage (.939) in Division I. Returning with Orr is all-conference forward Mae Ola Bolton. Coach Joe Ciampi might call his daughter, Lisa, a 5'8" freshman guard, off the bench to fire from 19'9" and take advantage of the women's new three-point field goal rule.
Penny Toler, a 5'8" guard at Long Beach State, learned her basketball on the asphalt of Washington, D.C. She grew up near Georgetown University and played against such stars as Johnny Dawkins and the late Len Bias. Last season she averaged 21.9 points, 6.6 assists and 2.2 steals a game and guided the 49ers to their first Final Four, where they were beaten by Tennessee in the semis. Toler will continue to spark coach Joan Bonvicini's fast-break offense, which led the nation in scoring with 95.8 points per game.
Louisiana Tech senior guard Angela Lawson entered one 10-kilometer and three 5-kilometer races over the summer and won them all. The Lady Techsters, who fell to the Lady Vols in the NCAA final last March, are sure to keep their opponents running as well. Coach Leon Barmore, whose defense was the best in Division I last season, allowing only 55.2 points a game, is eschewing his inside power game—he lost two seniors 6'3" or taller—in favor of greater quickness and even more defensive pressure. Teresa Weatherspoon, a senior guard, will control the tempo for Tech with her passing and defensive peskiness.
Georgia must play three of last season's Final Four teams, in addition to its rugged SEC schedule. Fortunately for the Lady Bulldogs, coach Andy Landers nabbed acclaimed recruit Tammye Jenkins, a 6'5" center from Dawson, Ga.
Wimbish & Co. didn't get by the Lady Techsters in the semis last spring, but this season's outcome may well be different.
THE TOP 10
4. Long Beach State
5. Louisiana Tech
8. Western Kentucky
10. Ohio State