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Top women have Husky following

STORRS, CONN. — STORRS, Conn. -- There is almost a foot of snow on the ground, and it's about 20 degrees outside, not counting a stiff wind. Jimmy Stone, 8, is one of several thousand fans who have arrived about two hours early to watch the No. 1 University of Connecticut women's basketball team play Miami.

"Rebecca Lobo is a great player, and she teams well with Jamelle Elliott on the inside," said Stone. "Jennifer Rizzotti is a good point guard."

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And what about Connecticut's men's basketball team, which was voted No. 1 yesterday?

"Well, they have uh, uh, uh . . . Donny Marshall, and uh, uh, wait a minute, Ray Allen," said Johnson, who was attending the game with an aunt.

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The women Huskies (21-0) are a big, and in some cases bigger, part of Huskymania than the men's team. They have been ranked No. 1 for a little less than a month since upsetting then-No. 1 Tennessee, and have outscored opponents by more than 20 points in 18 games.

And they are the only unbeaten team in Division I.

"We're really trying to stay focused, take it one game at a time," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "We're trying not to get bigheaded and, fortunately, we don't have any players with big egos. But the whole state knows what is going on."

The state of Connecticut is buzzing. The 8,241-seat Gampel Pavilion, where the women Huskies -- and sometimes the men -- play at home, has been sold out for the past five games, and attendance is at 7,814 per contest. Only Tennessee has a higher average at 8,823.

The Huskies are covered home and away by 10 newspapers and 13 members of the electronic media. The team has become so recognizable that Auriemma now does a limousine company ad, and the starters can't go to a mall without signing autographs, which they do for 30 minutes after every home game.

Lobo confirms that she once was pointed out by a priest in the middle of Mass and the congregation arose and gave her a standing ovation.

"Everyone has been so supportive," said Lobo, a 6-foot-7 forward/center. "We understand that this is a basketball state, but some of the things that happen are just unexplainable."

Like the 100 letters of fan mail the players receive each week. Like last Wednesday when the players signed 16 basketballs that were to be sold at auctions for charity. The Kelly Lane School in Granby, Conn., gives five points for math students who can remember certain Husky statistics, or uses them to do homework.

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"It's kind of hard to believe that you're only 18 or 19 years old, and you're somebody's role model," said Elliott, from Washington, D.C. "That's the kind of stuff for Michael Jordan or somebody."

Auriemma said: "What else can a person in this state do during the winter? There is no pro football, basketball or baseball. Some people have allegiances to different teams, like the Giants, Jets and Knicks, but there was no one team they could all unite behind. Now they have that with basketball."

When the madness began

The women's version of Huskymania actually started five years after Auriemma became head coach. The Gampel Pavilion opened Jan. 3, 1990, and the women Huskies went 25-6 that season, good enough to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"The men were already established, so people who couldn't get tickets to their game came to ours," Auriemma said of the program that had only one winning season out of 10 before his dTC arrival. "They were more curious to see the building. Once we started winning, they just kept coming."

In Auriemma's nine years, the Huskies have been to the Final Eight once, the Final Four once and have appeared in the past six NCAA tournaments. Connecticut also has won five Big East championships.

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"He's intense, a great coach who drives you to get better," said Lobo. "He's always on edge, but he knows when to hug you or when to stay on your back. He deserves a lot of credit and is very unselfish."

That's a trademark of this team. There's only one bona fide superstar and it's Lobo, a Player of the Year and Rhodes scholar candidate. Lobo, from Southwick, Mass., is a political science major with a 3.9 grade-point average, a warm smile and a versatile game.

She averages 16.9 points and 10.6 rebounds. She has 86 assists and 76 blocked shots. She shoots nearly 70 percent from the foul line, and she can play inside or outside.

"She could score every time down if she wanted," said Providence coach Bob Foley. "She's a great passer. She reads defenses. When she's double-teamed, she's always going to look for the open person."

Great supporting cast

Other than Lobo, everyone plays an almost singular role. Rizzotti (13.1 ppg) runs the offense. Freshman Nykesha Sales provides the outside shooting (25 of 49 on three-point attempts). Center ,, Kara Wolters, 6-7, and Elliott have inside strength, with Rizzotti also helping with the dirty work.

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"We don't have that swagger where we go out there knowing and acting like we're going to kick someone's butt," said Auriemma. "But we do have two nasty girls. You could smack Rebecca and Kara, and they won't smack you back because they know Jamelle and Jennifer are going to do it for them the next time down the court."

It's a total package for Connecticut, one that has ripped through a weak Big East Conference. "We can't be blamed for that," said Auriemma. "What are we supposed to do, make the games close?"

It has brought about some bizarre comments about the women Huskies being able to beat the men, or some of their opponents. But players from both Connecticut teams have respect for the others.

"Some people want to strike up a rivalry between us," said Allen, "but it's nothing like that. We pull just as hard for them."

Said Lobo last week: "If we play earlier in the day, we head straight to their games afterward. We're both a part of what is happening here. I want nothing but for them to keep winning. We want our men to be No. 1, too."

As of yesterday morning, they were.

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AP WOMEN'S TOP 5

3).. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Record .. .. Pts

1. Connecticut (31) ... . 21-0 .. .. 799

2. Tennessee (1) ... .. . 23-1 .. .. 769

3. Colorado .. .. .. .. . 20-2 .. .. 724

4. Louisiana Tech .. .. . 20-3 .. .. 687

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5. Stanford .. .. .. .. . 19-2 .. .. 673

AP WOMEN'S TOP 25

:0No. School .. .. .. .. Record .. .. Pts .. Pvs

1. Connecticut (31) .. . 21-0 .. .. 799 .. . 1

2. Tennessee (1) .. .. . 23-1 .. .. 769 .. . 2

3. Colorado . .. .. .. . 20-2 .. .. 724 .. . 3

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4. Louisiana Tech . .. . 20-3 .. .. 687 .. . 5

5. Stanford . .. .. .. . 19-2 .. .. 673 .. . 6

6. Virginia . .. .. .. . 20-3 .. .. 628 .. . 8

7. Texas Tech .. .. .. . 22-3 .. .. 608 .. . 4

8. Vanderbilt .. .. .. . 20-5 .. .. 569 .. . 7

9. North Carolina . .. . 22-3 .. .. 551 .. . 11

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10. Washington . .. .. . 19-5 .. .. 474 .. . 12

11. Penn State . .. .. . 18-4 .. .. 468 .. . 13

12. Georgia . .. .. .. . 19-2 .. .. 462 .. . 10

13. W. Kentucky ... .. . 18-3 .. .. 413 .. .. 9

14. Florida . .. .. .. . 18-6 .. .. 357 .. . 18

15. Purdue .. .. .. .. . 18-6 .. .. 355 .. . 17

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16. Mississippi ... .. . 18-4 .. .. 333 .. . 14

17. Geo. Washington .. . 16-4 .. .. 268 .. . 16

18. Arkansas ... .. .. . 17-5 .. .. 220 .. . 20

19. Alabama . .. .. .. . 16-7 .. .. 212 .. . 19

20. Kansas .. .. .. .. . 16-7 .. .. 177 .. . 15

21. Oregon State .. .. . 15-4 .. .. 154 .. . 23

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22. Duke . .. .. .. .. . 17-5 .. .. 131 .. . 21

23. Texas A&M; .. .. .. . 15-6 .. ... 76 .. . --

24. Southern Cal .. .. . 13-6 .. ... 56 .. . 22

25. San Diego State .. . 18-4 .. ... 41 .. . --

Others receiving votes: Oklahoma 30, DePaul 29, Old Dominion 23, Clemson 19, Florida International 17, Wisconsin 17, Auburn 11, St. Joseph's 9, Virginia Tech 9, Memphis 6, Ohio University. 4, Drake 3, Seton Hall 3, Southern Methodist 3, Villanova 3, Wichita State 3, Oklahoma State 2, Grambling State 1, Lamar 1, Notre Dame 1, Ohio State 1.


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