Inside Women's Basketball:
Posted: Monday March 08, 1999 04:20 PM
By Trisha Lucey, Sports Illustrated for Women
Oregon freshman point guard Shaquala Williams says she prefers to start rather than come off the bench, because she likes to set the the tempo of the game. After notching 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in her first start against Washington on Jan. 15, Shaq served notice that she belongs in the game from the opening tap. Since that victory over the Huskies, she has led the Ducks to a 12-2 record and the school's first-ever Pac-10 championship, which Oregon shared with UCLA.
The 5'6" sparkplug has averaged 13.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists as a starter, despite nursing a sprained ankle, and she was named the conference's freshman of the year. "Shaq has the ability to lead the team because she's willing to take the big shots," says Oregon coach Jody Runge, who was honored as the Pac-10 coach of the year. "Most freshman don't have this take-it-into-your-own-hands philosophy."
Williams' youth is counterbalanced by Australian seniors Natasha O'Brien and Lisa Bowyer, who provide defensive intensity and veteran leadership. Sophomores Jenny Mowe (6'5") and Angelina Wolvert (6'3") give the Ducks a strong presence in the paint, and all told 10 players see significant minutes. The team also boasts a stingy defense which has been in the top 10 nationally all season.
Runge has taken Oregon to the NCAA tournament in each of her six seasons in Eugene, but her teams have never advanced past the second round. An 82-73 defeat March 4 at Stanford's Maples Pavilion, where the Ducks have not won since 1987, prevented Oregon from winning the conference title outright and probably cost them the chance to host an NCAA tournament subregional at McArthur Court.
The Ducks, the No. 5 seed in the Mideast, take on No. 12 Cincinnati Friday in Ames, Iowa. Can they still find the way to San Jose? Says Williams: "From the beginning our goal was to win the Pac-10, go to the Final Four and win the national championship. If you want to be the best you have to set high goals for yourself."
Southwest Missouri State may be a longshot to win the championship, but sophomore sensation Jackie Stiles likely will determine how far the Lady Bears get. Three times this season, Stiles has won games with buzzer-beating three-point shots, one of which was a perfectly executed touchdown play against Wichita State in a 73-70 victory. Remember Valparaiso's Bryce Drew in the men's tournament last year? Stiles will have to continue her last-second heroics for SMSU to become this season's Cinderella story.
A high-school legend in her home state of Kansas, Stiles has attracted quite a following in Springfield as well. In her last home game on Feb. 27, a section of fans who dress for games according to different themes held "Stiles Night."
"They were all dressed up as nice as they could be, real classy with top hats and bow ties or pretty dresses," says the 5'8" guard. "It makes all the hard work worth it when you get to play in front of those kind of fans."
If Stiles can lead SMSU, the No. 7 seed in the West, past No. 10 Cal-Santa Barbara, she will most likely go head-to-head with another phenomenal guard, Becky Hammon of No. 2 Colorado State.
Against UNLV on Feb. 25, Hammon became the WAC's most prolific scorer with a bang. Needing just 20 points to break Keith Van Horn's career record of 2,542 points, the 5'6" senior from Rapid City, S.Dak., nailed a three at the beginning of the second half to take sole possession of the scoring crown. She finished the game with 42 points and the regular season with 2,662. The Rams are hungry after a 65-49 loss to SMU in the finals of the WAC tournament and their 31 wins are the most of any Division I team this season.
Both teams have a tough road ahead. Nine members of the Top 25 were placed in the West region, including Louisiana Tech, UCLA, Penn State and Virginia.
Tennessee (28-2) begins its quest for a fourth straight title Saturday at 9:30 p.m .ET against 14-14 Appalachian State, which rebounded from a six-game losing streak in January to win the Southern Conference tournament.
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