Tournament Field Half-Full, Not Half-Empty
March 14, 2001
Much has been made about who won't be playing in the NCAA women's basketball tournament. But how about all those who will?
The 64-team field still is loaded with talent, with All-Americans, would-be All-Americans, players who aren't as well known as Riley and Ralph and Catchings - but might be soon.
"The whole country is looking at this tournament," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. "It's a chance for players to show what they can do as individuals, a chance for teams to show what they can do. If you step up and do it in the NCAA tournament, everybody knows it."
It all starts Friday, with 16 first-round games at eight campus sites. There will be 16 more games at eight other sites Saturday.
The players worth watching start with Notre Dame's Ruth Riley, a unanimous All-American and winner of the Naismith Award as the nation's top player. Riley will lead the top-seeded Irish against Alcorn State in the Midwest Regional at South Bend, Ind., on Saturday.
The Irish also have a third-team All-American in point guard Niele Ivey. Her backcourt partner, Alicia Ratay, has made a nation-leading 53.8 percent of her 3-point shots.
Top-ranked Connecticut, the No. 1 seed in the East, won't have Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph when it begins defense of its national title against visiting Long Island on Saturday. Abrosimova is out with a torn ligament in her foot, Ralph with a torn ACL suffered in the Big East tournament final.
But the Huskies haven't lost since Abrosimova went out on Feb. 1 and there's ample talent left. Point guard Sue Bird is a third-team All-American. Freshman Diana Taurasi is a fearless shooter. Tamika Williams, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones are strong inside.
"We've got a bunch of guys who have won the national championship, who have been through it," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Some team is going to have to beat us and if they do, then great. But it won't be because we don't have Shea or Svet."
The Miller twins are in their final go-round at Georgia, which is seeded second in the East and plays host to Liberty on Friday. Kelly, a two-time first-team All-American, has scored 2,150 points in her career. Coco is right behind with 2,107.
Tennessee, the top seed overall in the tournament, plays host to Austin Peay in the Mideast Regional on Friday. The Lady Vols have lost only once since Tamika Catchings, the national player of the year last season, went down with a torn ACL on Jan. 15.
"They have responded so well and so has Connecticut," said Texas coach Marsha Sharp, whose team is seeded second in the Mideast. "There's probably not two programs in the country that could have lost the players they have and still be playing at that level."
Texas Tech's challenge in the first round will be stopping Pennsylvania's Diana Caramanico, who's among the nation's leaders in scoring (21.9) and rebounding (10.0).
Southwest Missouri State's Jackie Stiles, the NCAA's career scoring leader with 3,253 points, will try to shoot Toledo out of the tournament in a West Regional game Saturday at Piscataway, N.J.
The player of the year in the Sun Belt Conference usually comes from Louisiana Tech, but not this season. She's Michaela Pavlickova, who averages 17.7 points and 9.6 rebounds for Denver. The Pioneers play Virginia Tech in a Mideast game at Lubbock, Texas, on Friday.
Iowa State, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, will face one of those lesser-known but dangerous players when it meets Howard on Friday night. Howard's Andrea Gardner leads the nation in rebounding (14.4), averages 19.5 points and is shooting 56 percent.
"She's very athletic, has long arms and goes after the ball very hard," Fennelly said. "Unfortunately, we didn't have anybody to simulate her in practice."
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER