Women called to order


Those who say that the same cast of characters, namely Connecticut and Tennessee, rule the women's game got cold water splashed in their argument when relative newbies Notre Dame, Purdue and Southwest Missouri State crashed last season's Final Four party.

There's a pretty good chance that more newcomers, on the order of Vanderbilt or Oklahoma or Iowa State, might get to San Antonio, the site of this season's Final Four, joining Tennessee and Connecticut. The best women's team this year could be Duke, a school, which at last check, knows how to win a national championship.

Here's a look at the women's game, from A to Z.

-- Milton Kent

A is for anterior cruciate ligament

The notorious tear that disproportionately affects women more than men crippled Tennessee's and Connecticut's title drives last season and has already robbed Final Four hopeful Oklahoma of its starting center, Jennifer Cunningham.

B is for Bird

Sue Bird, Connecticut's All-America senior point guard, needs only a decent season to all but assure she'll be the first pick in next spring's WNBA draft.

C is for Colorado State

The Rams finished 11th in the nation in three-pointers made last year. Colorado State, whose ninth seed in the tournament was sinfully low, shot Maryland out of the first round, and with 80 percent of its offense back and little respect, will likely take some other unsuspecting Eastern team out this year.

D is for Deanna Jackson

The Alabama-Birmingham senior forward (above right) has the highest scoring average among returning Division I players (25.1 ppg last year), now that Jackie Stiles has graduated.

E is for early departures

So far, only a couple of fifth-year players have shrugged off their senior seasons for the WNBA, but with Virginia sophomore Schuye LaRue leaving to play in France, it's only a matter of time before an underclassman challenges the handshake agreement between the NCAA and WNBA not to take players whose classes haven't graduated.

F is for freshmen

The best of this year is expected to be Tennessee's Shyra Ely, a 6-2 forward from Indianapolis, who is already drawing comparisons to Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings, who won national titles in their first seasons in Knoxville.

G is for Gail Goestenkors

She's the other Duke coach with an unpronounceable last name. It took the other coach, that K fellow, 11 years to win his first national title. This is Goestenkors' 10th year, and she has all the tools to win it all.

H is for home-court advantage

The top 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament still enjoy it in the first two rounds. However, the NCAA executive committee is expected to approve a long-overdue plan that will push the tournament ever so slowly to totally neutral floors.

I is for Iowa

Under second-year coach Lisa Bluder (above), the Hawkeyes were one of women's basketball's best three-point-shooting teams, and need only to settle their frontcourt to be a solid tournament contender.

J is for Jackie Stiles

The Southwest Missouri State star left as the NCAA's all-time leading scorer with 3,393 points.

K is for Kaayla Chones

The North Carolina State center missed most of last season with a torn ACL and should return to lead the Wolfpack deep into the tournament.

L is for Lisa Stockton

The former Wake Forest standout guard has made Tulane one of the best mid-major programs in the country. Stockton should be a candidate for an ACC coaching job next season, either at her alma mater or someplace else.

M is for Michigan

The Wolverines are a potential sleeper Final Four pick, with athleticism, depth and an impressive freshman recruit, Tabitha Poole.

N is for Nikki Teasley

The former St. John's at Prospect Hall star took last season off at North Carolina and should return as the best all-around player in the women's college game.

O is for Oklahoma

The Sooners, led by forward Stacey Dales (above), should battle Texas Tech for the Big 12 title, and have a solid chance at a Final Four berth. Not bad for a school that 11 years ago tried to shut down the program.

P is for pounding the boards

Howard center Andrea Gardner (above right, battling with Megan Taylor of Iowa State) dominated last season with 14.2 rebounds a game. Gardner, who also shot 58 percent from the field, is a senior now and could play her way into the WNBA with a similar season.

Q is for quintet

Maryland seniors Deedee Warley, Marche Strickland, Rosita Melbourne, Jamecca Harrell and Ije Agba have helped lead the Terps back to respectability.

R is for Ratay

Notre Dame junior guard Alicia Ratay (below) is the best three-point shooter in the game, hitting 55 percent of her attempts last season. The rebuilding Irish don't have much else this season, so R is not, alas, for repeat.

S is for Southern California

A once-dominant power in the women's game, the Trojans have fallen on mediocre times, with a 13-15 record last year. Coach Chris Gobrecht apparently has the talent to do better this season.

T is for Temple

Former Virginia All-American Dawn Staley had an impressive first year as coach there and should get to the NCAA tournament this year.

U is for underrated

An apt description of Clemson coach Jim Davis, who annually does more with less than any other coach in women's ball. The next men's opening in Death Valley should be his.

V is for Virginia

The Cavaliers' streak of 18 straight NCAA tournament appearances, the longest current run in the ACC, is in serious jeopardy, what with only one senior and two juniors on the roster.

W is for Western Kentucky

Former Virginia and Temple assistant Shawn Campbell, probably the best assistant coach in the women's game, gets a chance to run a program. Finally.

X is for Xavier

Two years after losing to Connecticut on the road in the NCAA second round, it pulled off last year's biggest tournament upset, a Sweet 16 surprise of Tennessee (below). The Musketeers suffered a few losses to graduation but have the shooters to get back to the regional semifinals, and maybe a little further.

Y is for yes

As in, "Yes, it's way past time the women's game adopted the 10-second half-court rule."

Z is for Zuzi Klimesova

The 6-2 senior forward at Vanderbilt, whose shooting (56.5 percent) and rebounding (8.1 boards a game last season) should be enough to keep defenses from completely collapsing on junior center Chantelle Anderson, the best low post player in the game, and give the Commodores a shot at the Final Four.

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