5 Louisiana Tech
8 Penn State
10 N.C. State
17 Texas Tech
18 Oregon State
20 Old Dominion
22 North Carolina
Georgia center Tracy Henderson presents her team as compelling
theater. "We're like a mystery," she says. "It's the same reason
people watch soap operas--they want to see what happens next."
The plot: One of the most potent recruiting classes in women's
basketball history, six players strong, finishes 17-11 in
1993-94 and reaches the Final Four the next year. Henderson
thinks people will want to tune in for this season's episodes.
Can the Lady Bulldogs win their first title?
Why not? All five starters return, led by guard Saudia Roundtree
(page 174) and junior forward La'Keshia Frett, and they're
packing more wallop thanks to tough off-season conditioning.
Says coach Andy Landers, "The people who needed to gain muscle
The heaviest weight at Connecticut (page 168) this season comes
from high expectations. USC is the only women's team ever to
repeat as NCAA champion, in 1983 and '84, but plenty of people
are picking UConn, 35-0 last season, to do just that. Coach Geno
Auriemma hasn't exactly toned down the talk of a second title,
saying that this season's team, buoyed by a topflight recruiting
class, may be even better than last season's.
And it will have to be to win. A case could be made for ranking
each of the top five teams No. 1. Vanderbilt has punch and
experience, with 6'1" senior Sheri Sam, MVP of the SEC
tournament, and 6'2" sophomore Na'Sheema Hillmon, also on the
all-tournament team. Add 6'7" junior center Angela Gorsica (3.0
bpg) and a national title won't be a tall order.
Virginia came this close to taking UConn's place in the Final
Four last April, leading the Huskies by seven at halftime in
Storrs, Conn., before bowing 67-63. All five Cavalier starters
are back, spearheaded by senior forward Wendy Palmer (17.6 ppg),
a top candidate for national player of the year. And with the
East regional in Charlottesville this spring, Virginia is poised
to take advantage of the home court edge that UConn exploited
Louisiana Tech and Tennessee are also in the hunt. The Lady
Techsters are missing only one starter from last season's Sweet
16 team. Guard play, highlighted by that of 5'9" senior Vickie
Johnson (16.4 ppg), is again a strength, as is shooting: The
four returning starters had a combined average of 51.4% last
season. The Lady Vols will rely on the whirling services of 5'9"
senior Michelle Marciniak, one of the nation's top point guards.
And they landed 6'2" forward Chamique Holds- claw from Christ
the King High, a three-time New York City player of the year.
The 1996 Olympics will take an early toll on Stanford. Coach
Tara VanDerveer has begun a one-year sabbatical to guide the
U.S. team--she'll be replaced by Cardinal assistant Amy Tucker
and onetime USC coach Marianne Stanley--and sophomore forward
Kristin Folkl is expected to take the season off to concentrate
on volleyball in preparation for the U.S. tryouts. A core of
experienced juniors, led by forward Kate Starbird (16.2 ppg),
will have to pick up the slack.
In January, Penn State will move into the new 15,000-seat Bryce
Jordan Center with a backcourt capable of drawing a crowd:
senior Katina Mack, a deadeye shooter who missed all but two
games last season after suffering two concussions, and senior
Tina Nicholson, the Big Ten's assist leader in 1994-95. The
conference's player of the year, 6'4" senior forward Stacey
Lovelace (14.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg), returns to defending Big Ten champ
Purdue and will lead the nation's best crop of recruits. The
cream of that crop is guard Stephanie White, who averaged 36.9
points per game at Seegar Memorial High in West Lebanon, Ind.
As a freshman last season, Chasity Melvin helped guide North
Carolina State to the Sweet 16, leading the Wolfpack in scoring
(16.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.0 rpg) as she became ACC Rookie of
the Year. Her SEC rookie counterpart, Arkansas point guard
Christy Smith, played every minute of every conference game,
steering the Razorbacks to a fourth-place finish in the
ultracompetitive SEC. Like Arkansas, Kansas has four starters
back, plus the Jayhawks mix in a little--no, make that a lot
of--Patience: 6'1" junior forward Patience Grayer, who averaged
18.7 points and 14.5 rebounds per game at Central Florida
Cheryl Miller, who stepped down as coach at USC to become a
television analyst, left plenty behind for her replacement,
former Trojan assistant Fred Williams: junior for- ward Tina
Thompson (19.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg) and the nation's second-best batch
of recruits, which includes twin guards Kim and Kristin Clark.
Iowa also lost its coach, Vivian Stringer, who after 12 years in
Iowa City bolted for Rutgers. But successor Angie Lee inherits
the fruit of Stringer's blue-chip class of a year ago: 6-foot
forward Tiffany Gooden and 6'4" center Tangela Smith.
Led by sophomore forward LaTonya Johnson (17.6 ppg), upstart
Memphis has every starter back from a team that knocked off USC
in the first round of the tournament last season. The Duke team
that lost to Alabama 121-120 in quadruple overtime in the second
round brings back four starters, including senior center Alison
Day (16.1 ppg). Even with senior center Michi Atkins back, Texas
Tech may not top last year's Elite Eight finish, but the Lady
Raiders should win their fifth SWC championship.
At Oregon State, new coach Judy Spoelstra inherits Pac-10 Player
of the Year Tanja Kostic (22.3 ppg) and four other starters from
a team that forced 24.2 turnovers per game. With the return of
explosive 5'11" senior forward Latasha Byears (26.4 ppg), DePaul
will battle Memphis atop the new Conference USA. After a
first-round flameout last year, Old Dominion is counting on 6'5"
junior center Clarisse Machanguana of Mozambique (16.9 ppg, 9.0
rpg) and sophomore guard Patricia Penicheiro from Portugal (6.2
apg) to transport the team further.
Colorado lost Big Eight Player of the Year Shelley Sheetz, but
junior forward Erin Sholz (9.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will help carry the
Buffs through four early-season tournaments. With point guard
Marion Jones focusing on track this year, North Carolina has
just one starter back, 5'11" sophomore Tracy Reid (12.9 ppg),
but the Tar Heels do have three blue-chippers arriving.
Guided by a talented backcourt, Big Sky champion Montana should
secure its 11th NCAA berth in 14 seasons. Former Big Ten doormat
Wisconsin will challenge the league establishment with senior
6'2" center Barb Franke (18.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg). In the Atlantic 10,
another giant may be awakening: In four seasons, coach Joanie
O'Brien has taken Massachusetts from 0-27 to second place. With
center Octavia Thomas and forward Melissa Gurile back, the
Minutewomen could make their first trip to the NCAAs. Maybe
they'll even find a less clunky nickname there. Like, say, the
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN With Johnson, Louisiana Tech should soar. [Vickie Johnson]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Two All-Americas have left, but Tennessee still has Marciniak to make its point. [Michelle Marciniak]