Women’s Tournament Preview – February 2006

For the past decade, the Women’s NCAA Basketball championship has been a game of “King of the Mountain” between two storied programs: Tennessee and the University of Connecticut. This year, though, it may be that neither makes the Final Four, much less the Elite Eight. Instead, as coaching icons and young upstarts prepare to guide an ever-growing pool of talent through the field of 64, the race to the top is as wide open as it’s ever been. Here’s a quick look at the teams to watch.

Duke: Player of the Year candidate Monique Currie isn’t getting the buzz former teammate Alana Beard did, but she deserves it. A very deep team that features post Mistie Williams, who has improved by leaps and bounds over her career, and got back point guard Lindsey Harding, this may be the year that the Blue Devils break the “can’t win the big one” curse.

North Carolina: Diminutive Ivory Latta is the heart a soul of a team that has plenty of speed and athleticism. Arguably the best point guard in the nation, she’s an effective distributor and can kill you with the long three. Teammates Camille Little and La’Tangela Atkinson have elevated their game and are supported by solid role players.

LSU: Senior Seimone Augustus and 6’6″ sophomore Sylvia Fowles are the potent one-two punch that can power the Tigers through the tournament. Guard Scholanda Hoston has emerged as a steady compliment to the two stars, giving coach Pokey Chatman a great shot at the Championship in only her second year at the helm.

Rutgers: Sure to be a top pick in the WNBA draft, fifth-year senior Cappie Pondexter is a strong candidate for Player of the Year and is, to some, Latta’s equal at point guard. Guards Essence Carson and Matee Ajavon can be brilliant, but the Scarlet Knights post play is suspect and their offense can stagger to a painful halt.

Maryland: The Terrapins have seen a resurgence behind coach Brenda Frese and an impressive bunch of young recruits. When freshman point guard Kristi Toliver is at the helm, Crystal Langhorne and Shay Doron can score a lot of points. An inability to commit to defense might be their undoing.

Connecticut: As coach Geno Auriemma noted, this season’s Huskies are a team made up not of superstars, but of good players who want to play really well. Seniors Ann Strother and Barbara Turner have two National Championships on their rŽsumŽ, but much rests in the hands of a young backcourt and a talented, yet frustratingly inconsistent, sophomore Charde Houston.

Georgia: Most dismissed the Lady Bulldogs when injuries decimated their frontcourt. But behind the gutsy play of Alexis Kendrick and sophomore Tasha Humphrey, coach Andy Landers is proving that an “All guards, All the time” line-up can bring success. A short bench may doom them, but they’ll sure be entertaining.

Oklahoma: The Sooners probably don’t have the backcourt they need to take them to the Final Four, but the extraordinary freshman post Courtney Paris might just sling the team on her back and carry them there. The hands down front-runner for Freshman of the Year honors, she should get serious POY consideration.

Teams to watch out for: Tennessee, Purdue and Ohio State.

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