Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Around the Big East: Women

Five new teams from Conference USA will shake up the Big East women’s hoops scene this year. Top prospects DePaul and Louisville enter the tough Big East competition. Here is The Hoya’s take on the new conference.

No. 1 Rutgers (28-7, 14-2)

The Rutgers women’s basketball program had one of its best seasons in 2004-05. After bowing out in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, the Scarlet Knights finished the season ranked seventh nationally. Two of the three Rutgers players primarily responsible for last season’s success are returning to action in 2005-06. The team’s cornerstone is fifth-year guard Cappie Pondexter, a three-time all-American who led the Knights in scoring a season ago (14.7 points per game). Sophomore Matee Ajavon looks to duplicate the success of her rookie season, in which she led the team in assists with 3.4 per game, averaged 12.4 points, and secured Big East Freshman of the Year honors. 2005 Big East Coach of the Year C. Vivian Stringer recruited a program that has been able to fill voids in the Rutgers frontcourt. Two freshmen expected to see immediate minutes for the Scarlet Knights are Kia Vaughn and Heather Zurich. Vaughn, a 6-foot-4 center from the Bronx, was one of the nation’s top 10 recruits as a senior, and 6-foot-1 forward Zurich was the 2005 New Jersey player of the year.

-Steve Rafferty

No. 2 Connecticut (25-8, 13-3)

The Huskies will return seven players to a team that won last year’s Big East tournament, including senior guard Ann Strother, the team’s leading scorer and best three-point threat. The Huskies also return senior forward Barbara Turner, who was second on the team with 11.0 points per game, while battling nagging injuries for most of the season. She was named the most outstanding player of the Big East tournament and led the team through the postseason, averaging 15.7 points and garnering an honorable mention for the all-Big East team. Sophomore Brittany Hunter is one of two true centers on the team and should see substantial playing time this season. The lone junior, guard Nicole Wolff, will be playing her first full season after missing the majority of her first two years with injuries. With a proven player in Strother, Head Coach Geno Auriemma will be inclined to play sophomore guard Ketia Swanier. Swanier was second on the team in assists and steals as a point guard last year. With the addition of a previously injured Wolff and Swanier, the Huskies are poised to repeat as Big East champions this year. A perennial threat, Auriemma has always coached successful programs and this year looks for more of the same.

-Fiore Mastroianni

No. 3 Notre Dame (27-6, 13-3)

The Fighting Irish head into the 2005-06 season poised to make their first trip to the Final Four since the team won the NCAA tournament four years ago. Though upset in the second round last year by Arizona State, the Irish had a successful season. Losing only four seniors, the team looks to build on last year’s success, capitalizing on the increased experience of its younger players. Senior Megan Duffy will lead the team, returning from an extremely productive season last year. Last year, she ranked first in the Big East in steals. With support from senior forward Courtney Lavere on the frontline, the team is confident about the upcoming season. The USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ poll seems to agree, ranking the team 15th in the country. The Irish should be a formidable opponent in the Big East this season, and are in great position to make a postseason run.

-Zack Bluestone

No. 4 DePaul (26-5, 13-1 CUSA)

Last year the DePaul Blue Demons dominated Conference USA with a 26-5 record and skated to the title. This year it will not be so easy. The team will have to overtake perennial powers Rutgers, Connecticut and Notre Dame, at least one of which has appeared in each of the last six NCAA championship games, but the Blue Demons definitely have the talent to take on the top teams in any conference. Coached by Doug Bruno, the squad will be led by two-time all-American senior forward Khara Smith, who averaged 18.6 points and 11.7 rebounds last season. The Blue Demons return three more starters, sophomore guard Allie Quigley, junior guard Jenna Rubino and sophomore forward Erin Carney. They also feature sophomore forward Caprice Smith and junior guard Rachael Carney, who played two seasons at Michigan and sat out last season as a transfer. Despite its wealth of talent, DePaul will still have to fight for the conference title. It may not win the conference championship, but could easily travel to the far reaches of the NCAA tournament.

-Will Cummings

No. 5 Villanova (19-12, 10-6)

The Wildcats grabbed the No. 5 spot in the coaches’ preseason poll, and the team has the experience to follow up on that prediction, returning three starters, six seniors and 72.1 percent of its scoring. Last year, the WNIT team finished tied for fourth in the Big East with a 19-12 record. In the 2005-06 campaign, the Wildcats will build on the skilled play of the senior backcourt of Betsy McManus and Jenna Viani, as well as the talent of senior forward Liad Suez, named to the preseason all-Big East team. Suez led the team in three-pointers and assists last season, and ranked second on the team in points behind junior forward Jackie Adamshick, who led the team with 13.2 points per game. Villanova will welcome freshman guards Kyle Dougherty, Tia Grant and Maria Getty to the team, as the competition in the new Big East will only increase the pressure to light up the board.

-Olivia Scott

No. 6 Louisville (22-9, 11-3 CUSA)

Transferring to the Big East from Conference USA, the Louisville Cardinals will jump right into the middle of the tough 16-team competition this season. Led by the junior tag team of center Jazz Covington and forward Missy Taylor, the experienced Cardinals will return four starters this year, and welcome top prospects forward Angel McCoughtry and guard Helen Johnson. Covington averaged 17.8 points and just over eight rebounds, leading the team in both categories with Taylor (13.1 points, 6.9 rebounds) just behind her. Sophomore forward Yuliya Tokova also has the ability to step up and contribute to the Cardinal offense this year after an impressive rookie season that landed her on the CUSA all-Freshman team.

-Olivia Scott

No. 7 West Virginia (21-13, 7-9)

The Mountaineers displayed remarkable consistency last season, winning more than 21 games and advancing to the NIT championship game. Head Coach Mike Carey has rebuilt the team, and is now looking forward to bigger things. He will once again depend on the services of junior guard Meg Bulger, arguably one of the conference’s best players, a 2004-05 all-Big East first team member and the highest scorer in the conference last year (19.5 points per game). With the likes of senior forward Jeriece Lee, junior guards Kate Glusko and Amber Robinson, sophomore guard LaQuita Owens and sophomore forward Kristin Heminger, the ountaineers look strong, offensively and defensively. Heminger should contribute as a leader both on and off the court. Despite missing the services of guard Yolanda Paige and Sherell Sowho, who averaged 12.5 and 12.6 points per game respectively, the ountaineers have confidence in their new recruits’ ability to provide defensive stability. With the team finally looking solid and performing better each season, 2005-06 is set to be a good season for the Mountaineers.

-S. Adil Ahmad

No. 8 St. John’s (20-11, 7-9)

When St. John’s women’s basketball went 20-11 (7-9 Big East) last year, it represented the highest win total for the program in 17 years. Beyond qualifying for the conference tournament, the Red Storm also advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling to West Virginia. The team’s quest for the Big Dance will be led by an inside-outside junior combination of guard Kia Wright and forward Angela Clark. Wright led the team in scoring last year with 14.8 points, adding 4.4 rebounds, four assists and 2.3 steals per game. Clark finished second with 11.7 points per game, as well as pulling down 8.3 boards. Joining Wright in the backcourt will be senior guards Tara Walker (9.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Greeba Barlow (8.3 ppg). Sophomore guard Andrea Peterson could see added minutes after hitting 47.6 percent on threes last year, and freshman Monique McLean may also be in the mix for playing time. Up front, senior Danielle Chambers could have a greater impact in her final season after averaging five points and six rebounds in a more limited role last season. Despite averaging only 20 minutes per contest, she managed to lead the team in blocks and will be the Red Storm’s primary defensive stopper. St. John’s will visit Washington on Jan. 7 to take on the Hoyas.

-Aaron Melaas

No. 9 South Florida (21-11, 9-5 CUSA)

Ranked ninth out of 16 teams in the preseason Big East coaches’ poll, the Bulls aren’t likely to challenge for the league crown, but they could certainly win their fair share of ballgames. Leading the team this season is junior forward Jessica Dickson, who promises to at least make things exciting. A member of the preseason all-Big East squad, Dickson netted over 16 points per game last season. Junior Nalini Miller, a center who averaged 8.3 points per game last year, is also back to add some points for the Bulls.

-Bailey Heaps

No. 10 Marquette (18-12, 8-6 CUSA)

After a fairly solid campaign last year in which the team posted an 18-12 overall mark (8-6 CUSA), the Golden Eagles return five of their top six players for their first year in the Big East. Though last season’s squad failed to match the previous year’s 22-10 mark and did not make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, it did garner a spot in the WNIT before falling to Nebraska in the first round. Head Coach Terri Mitchell will look to her solid core of players to improve on a disappointing 6-9 record on the road and get her young team back on track in a new conference. The Golden Eagles are led up front by junior forward Christina Quaye, tops on the team last year with a 15.7 scoring average (on 50 percent shooting) and 6.8 rebounds per game. She also managed to convert her free throws at a 76-percent clip. She will be joined by two of her classmates at forward, juniors Danielle Kamm and Jasmine cCullough, who put up nearly twin stats last season, combining for 16.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per contest. Senior forward Efueko Osagie also chipped in 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds while leading the team in steals. In the backcourt, senior Carolyn Kieger returns as the point guard after posting 11.7 points and 6.2 assists per game, but will need to improve on her 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio if Marquette is to make some noise in the conference race.

-Aaron Melaas

No. 12 Seton Hall (14-14, 6-10)

A .500 team a year ago, the Seton Hall women were hit hard by graduation. Leading scorer Ashley Bush will no longer be with the team – and neither will Asia Carrol, who contributed eight points a game a year ago. But junior forward Monique Blake, a starter last year who contributed 11 points per game, is set to return and lead the way for the Pirates. Blake’s numbers are expected to jump from last season, as she was nagged by injuries; this year she will need to surmount opponents’ double teams and a personal knack for getting into foul trouble, Another junior, guard/forward Heta Korpivaara, is also expected to be among Seton Hall’s top scorers this winter. The largest questions revolve around the positions of center and point guard, and the Pirates expect to fill the two slots with seniors Julie Costello and Keri Shutz, who have seen considerable playing time but have struggled with consistency and on-court aggressiveness, respectively. Seton Hall looks to improve to above .500, and not get lost in the new Big East this season. The Hoyas will face the Pirates at home in the beginning of February.

-Bailey Heaps

No. 13 Pittsburgh (13-15, 5-11)

The Pittsburgh Panthers, having lost three players who averaged more than 28 minutes per game last season, have high hopes for their young team. Last year sophomore forward Mercedes Walker led the Big East with 9.1 rebounds per game, and also led the Panthers in scoring with 13.3 points per game. Danielle Taylor, a junior forward, is the team’s second-leading returning scorer and serves as a nice compliment to Walker. Pitt also has the makings of a good backcourt, which includes junior transfer Malorie Winn, who averaged 7.4 points per game for Georgia Tech in 2003-04, when the Yellow Jackets reached the NCAA tournament. In addition to Winn, the Panthers have sophomore Karlyle Lim, who was a solid bench player for the Panthers last season. Due to their youth, the Panthers may have some early struggles, but they hope to ride Walker to a competitive Big East season and a postseason berth.

-Will Cummings

No. 14 Syracuse (13-16, 4-12)

The 2004-05 season saw Syracuse drastically improve its past season’s performance. This season the Orange will want to continue from where they left off. They will now play their home games at the formidable Carrier Dome, which could be a huge boost. It remains to be seen, however, whether Syracuse will have the talent to continue to improve. Half of the squad is new, including five freshmen and one junior transfer. Plus, 10 out of the 12 players on the roster are underclassmen. The freshman recruits, including point guards Jenny Eckhart and Cintia Johnson, will need to be able to handle the pressure. The Orange will sorely miss the services of Chinese Nwagbo, who led the team with 10.3 points per game and 111 field goals last season. For blocking shots and scoring baskets, the team will also rely on sophomore center Vaida Sipavicuite.

-S. Adil Ahmad

No. 15 Cincinnati (9-19, 4-10 CUSA)

The Bearcats enter the Big East this year from Conference USA and return three starters and nine players overall. The Bearcats will also add one of the top recruiting classes in the nation with cDonald’s all-American guard Shelly Bellman and a flurry of players like forward Jill Stephens, who set records, earned varsity letters and took all-state honors in three sports through high school. Unproven in Big East play, Cincinnati has a lot of potential, and this group of healthy veterans and youths may give Ohioans some hope to bounce back after last season’s disappointment.

-Fiore Mastroianni

No. 16 Providence (1-27, 0-16)

The Providence Friars have had a rough few years. New head coach Phil Seymore is hoping to turn around the bad luck. The Friars have not won a Big East game in two seasons, but they return nearly every contributor from last year and will also retain senior forward Gayle Nwafili, who missed last season with a knee injury. In addition to Nawfili, who averaged 12.3 points per game and 8.3 rebounds in 2003-04, the Friars return leading scorer Shauna Snyder, who averaged 13.4 points per game. Providence also has sophomore center Kristen Brown, who led the team with 6.2 rebounds last year. In the backcourt, the Friars have experienced guards, junior Kristina Baugh and senior Alle Gard. Yet the Friars must remember that they are coming off a horrendous season, in which they were outscored by an average of 27.1 points per game, shot a lowly 34.7 percent from the field and allowed their opponents to shoot 48.1 percent. The team will have difficulty making itself competitive in the tough Big East.

-Will Cummings

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