Women's Scouting Reports Can UConn win a second straight title? Huskies coach Geno Auriemma guarantees it

November 20, 2000

Like options trading and jumping the Snake River Canyon, the
business of guaranteeing victory offers little margin for error.
For every Pat Riley, who proved prescient by predicting a repeat
title for his Los Angeles Lakers in 1988, there are dozens of
Patrick Ewings, forever falling short of entry into the Promise
Keepers. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma says he understood what
he was getting into last April when, at a rally for his national
champions, he bounded up to a podium in the lobby of the state
capitol in Hartford and declared that his team would not only
return to the Final Four in 2001 but would also win the NCAA
crown again. Guaranteed. "We'll be back here next year with a
third one," proclaimed Auriemma, whose Huskies have won two
national titles. "I promise you that."

With all five starters back from a squad that went 36-1, a roster
flush with All-Americas and a 10-deep rotation that plays with
the unselfishness of Mother Teresa, UConn figures to make
Auriemma look like a soothsayer extraordinaire by winning the
NCAA championship in St. Louis next April. The Huskies' endless
wave of talent begins with a trio of Naismith Player of the Year
candidates: senior forward Svetlana Abrosimova, junior point
guard Sue Bird and senior guard Shea Ralph. Junior forwards Swin
Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams would be go-to players at
any other program. Then there is the nation's top freshman, guard
Diana Taurasi, who Auriemma says will make an immediate impact.
"They've just got so much talent," says Louisiana Tech coach Leon
Barmore, "that I don't think any other team is even close."

Don't expect Tennessee to wave the white flag just yet. "We
recognize that UConn should be picked to win the championship,"
says Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summitt, "but are we practicing
every day for second place? No." To combat the tsunami of Huskies
frontcourt players that overwhelmed Tennessee in last spring's
national championship game, a 71-52 Connecticut victory, Summitt
is counting on four freshmen to provide extra depth. The best of
the newcomers is 6'5" Ashley Robinson, whose preseason battles
with 6'5" junior center Michelle Snow have taken on the intensity
of a Subway Series. Given a deeper roster and the excellence of
senior forward Tamika Catchings, the reigning Player of the Year,
and sophomore point guard Kara Lawson, what the Lady Vols most
need is for seniors Kristen (Ace) Clement, Kyra Elzy and Semeka
Randall to become consistent offensive threats. "At times we
played three-on-five last year," says Summitt. "It said on the
front of our media guide BALANCED ATTACK, yet we never had a
balanced attack last year."

With the marvelous Miller twins, seniors Coco and Kelly, junior
center Tawana McDonald and junior guard Deanna (Tweety) Nolan,
Georgia has an attack that rivals any in the nation. With all
that firepower returning, the most dramatic change in the Lady
Bulldogs during the off-season happened away from the court.
After numerous misspellings of her daughter's first name in
newspapers, Virginia Nolan began the process of legally altering
Tweety's moniker from Deana to Deanna. In July the change became
official. But any way you spell it, Deana-Deanna is a big-time
player, averaging a team-high 15.7 points in SEC games. Whether
the Lady Dawgs have enough depth in the frontcourt will
determine whether they improve on last year's Elite Eight finish.

Inside the Purdue locker room is a giant poster of a globe in
the guise of a basketball with a map showing the distance from
West Lafayette to St. Louis. "We're dreaming big," says
Boilermakers coach Kristy Curry. At the center of the dream is
senior Katie Douglas, an All-America forward who enters the
season with a heavy heart. Douglas, who averaged 20.4 points a
game in 1999-2000, lost her mother to breast cancer in April,
three years after her father died of pancreatic cancer. Douglas
says she will honor her parents and Tiffany Young, her teammate
who was killed by a drunk driver in July 1999, by wearing a
monogrammed wristband emblazoned with their initials. She and
senior center Camille Cooper will have to show the nation's top
recruiting class--led by guards Cherrise Graham and Erika
Valek--the way to the Show Me State.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has analyzed the footage from the
Fighting Irish's 69-65 Sweet 16 loss to Texas Tech last season
the way Kennedy conspiracy theorists pick apart the Zapruder
film. Notre Dame burst to a 17-0 lead before folding like origami
when All-America center Ruth Riley (16.2 points and 7.3 rebounds
a game) got into foul trouble. If Riley can avoid getting her
Irish up during games, Notre Dame will go far. The life of Riley
will be aided by point guard Niele Ivey, a steely senior, and
sophomore two guard Alicia Ratay, a 36.5% three-point shooter
last season. "We have talent at every spot," Riley says.

There's no shortage of talent at Duke, either. As she does every
year, Blue Devils coach Gail Goestenkors gathered her players in
early September and asked them what Duke's goals should be.
Freshman forward Iciss Tillis, one of five stellar recruits,
announced that she wanted to get to the Final Four. Then senior
point guard Georgia Schweitzer spoke: "I don't want to just go to
the Final Four. I want to win." If the Blue Devils cut down the
nets, it will almost certainly be because of Schweitzer, the
1999-2000 ACC Player of the Year, who averaged 15.6 points, 3.3
assists and 3.6 rebounds. Schweitzer and senior forward Rochelle
Parent must set the example for the fab freshmen, whose leading
lady, Alana Beard, will start on the wing. "We have more
athleticism and depth than we've ever had," says Goestenkors,
"but we're very young."

LSU coach Sue Gunter has heard about the Lady Tigers'
shortcomings from almost everyone on the bayou. "Everybody keeps
telling me, 'Sue, you've got to have more size,'" she says of a
team with just one player over 6 feet. "Well, we went to the
Elite Eight and played UConn very well [86-71] with the same size
we have this year. We know what we've got." What LSU has is the
nation's best all-around shooting guard in senior Marie Ferdinand
(17.5 points and 5.3 assists per game), whose first step is as
quick as a hiccup. It also has sophomore point guard Kisha James,
who returns after missing last season with a torn left ACL. Keep
an eye (or two) on talented freshman twin guards Doneeka and
Roneeka Hodges, whom we'll call Miller Lite until they come of
age. If center DeTrina White returns to the court next month
without the nagging back ailments that have plagued her, the Lady
Tigers will be tough to beat.

It's hoped that good things will happen this season for Rutgers
senior point guard Tasha Pointer, who experienced a summer she'd
like to forget. Upon walking home from a pickup game in her
native Chicago in July, Pointer was hit in the eye by a pellet
from a BB gun. She was rushed to the hospital, and her vision was
blurry for two weeks following the incident. "I was scared for my
life at first," she says, "but as soon as I headed to the
emergency room, I started thinking about basketball. I've been
waiting for this season to start." So have been the rest of the
Scarlet Knights, who lost top scorer and rebounder Shawnetta
Stewart but have four starters returning from a 26-8 team that
advanced to the Final Four. Coach Vivian Stringer says Rutgers
will run more this season and, as always, play its usual
suffocating defense.

Two years ago Iowa State shocked UConn in the Sweet 16, a
national coming-out party for a program that has risen from the
dead since coach Bill Fennelly took over five years ago. The
Cyclones, who won a school-record 27 games last season, have lost
All-Americas Desiree Francis and Stacy Frese to the WNBA. Don't
feel too bad for Fennelly, who has three starters back, including
junior center Angie Welle, the preseason Big 12 Player of the
Year. If sophomore Lindsey Wilson comes close to resembling Frese
at the point, the Cyclones will be a handful. "The expectations
around here are high, but I'd rather have them that way," says
Fennelly.

Barmore has played the best and beaten the best as well, though
don't expect his Louisiana Tech team to do the latter this
season. Barmore announced his retirement last spring only to have
his golden years come to an end 26 days later when school
officials asked him to return following the sudden departure of
longtime assistant and heir apparent Kim Mulkey-Robertson, who
took the coaching job at Baylor. Overcoming the departure of four
starters would have been tough enough, but that loss was
compounded in September when star sophomore power forward Catrina
Frierson suffered a season-ending ACL injury during a pickup
game. Barmore needs junior centers Takeisha Lewis and Ayana
Walker to be not merely good but outstanding. "There's no doubt
that this team has talent and will at some point be in the Top
10," he says. "If people write us off now, they may see us at the
end."

Perhaps. More likely, folks will be looking at Auriemma to make
good on his guarantee and win his third national title. "We have
everybody back from a team that won it all, and we've added a
couple of good players," says Auriemma. "If everybody does what
they are capable of doing, then we should win it all."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY AL TIELEMANS Two powerful As they did last year, UConn's Ralph and Tennessee's Randall figure to battle for the national championship. COLOR PHOTO: JOE RAYMOND Floor leader If All-America center Riley can refrain from getting her Irish up, Notre Dame will be difficult to keep down.

Top 10

1 Connecticut
2 Tennessee
3 Georgia
4 Purdue
5 Notre Dame
6 Duke
7 LSU
8 Rutgers
9 Iowa State
10 Louisiana Tech

cnnsi.com. For women's college basketball news, scores,
schedules, stats and rosters, plus Trisha Blackmar's analysis, go
to cnnsi.com/basketball/college/women.

"They've got so much talent," a rival coach says of the Huskies,
"that I don't think any other team is even close."

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