Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, on the other hand, remains grounded about the hunt for the national title. "I wouldn't say Tennessee is a can't-miss champion," she says. "Everybody's vulnerable. You just have to figure out what that Achilles' heel is." The Achilles' heel for Virginia last year was the Achilles tendon of junior guard Tiffany Bower. The right tibia of senior guard-forward Monick Foote was a major pain as well. With Bower and Foote healthy again after missing all of last season, Virginia's versatile lineup will now be a pain for its opponents. "I can go small and quick, and I can go big and quick," says Ryan, who can go really big if she wants to. Sophomore Elena Kravchenko, a 6'10" center, is the tallest female player in Division I, and 6'3" forward DeMya Walker (16.3 points, 8.4 rebounds) should be even deadlier in the post now that teams have to respect Virginia's perimeter game. Sophomore point guard Erin Stovall gives Ryan another topflight athlete to face the likes of the Lady Vols.
The scouting report on Rutgers sophomore point guard Natasha Pointer is, Always goes for the kill. Attacks from the wing only when necessary. "I want to take all your pieces," says Pointer, who has been honing her other game—chess—since junior high. "I'm coming straight down the middle, but be prepared because I might get you on the side." So far Pointer remains the undefeated chess champion of the Scarlet Knights, though coach Vivian Stringer refuses to surrender. "She has a reason for everything going wrong on the chessboard," says Pointer. "But I'm just better right now." So is Rutgers, thanks to a remarkable freshman class that won 22 games last year, including an upset of No. 2-ranked Connecticut. But Pointer (14.0 points, 5.6 assists) and the sophomore-dominated frontcourt will have to pick up the slack until senior guard Tomora Young (13.7 points) is at full strength after surgery on her left knee. That should be just in time for a Jan. 3 matchup with the national champs at Madison Square Garden. "People will be coming to knock down our door this year," says Pointer. "It's no longer, Have you heard of Rutgers? It's now, Rutgers is coming to town."
Last season Alabama gave Tennessee a scare twice. Dictating the tempo, coach Rick Moody forced the Lady Vols into a half-court game and nearly pulled off the impossible, losing 73-66 and 67-63. His blueprint for vanquishing the Vols? "You just cannot turn the ball over," he says, "or they'll destroy you." Despite its near success with the slowdown, the Crimson Tide will pick up the pace this season with what Moody says is the best incoming class of his 10-year tenure. Setting the tempo in Tuscaloosa will be guard-forward Dominique Canty, a 5'10" senior who many believe is the best player in the country whose name doesn't include Meek. "She's going to get hers," Moody says. "One way or another, she always does."
So likely will Summitt, who begins her 25th year at Tennessee with a powerful cast that may yet live up to Holdsclaw's proclamation after the title game last March: The 1998-99 squad will be the best in college basketball history. "I'll tell you this," says Summitt. "If we're at our best and someone else is at their best, I wouldn't want to trade teams."