WOMEN'S SCOUTING REPORTS
THE TOP 10
2 Louisiana Tech
Sarah Edwards was determined to play for Tennessee this season—even if that meant never getting to play. So with two weeks left in the spring signing period last April, she traveled to Knoxville to persuade coach Pat Summitt to let her walk on, an invitation Summitt has extended over the past two decades about as often as she has lost in the NCAA tournament. To prepare for her sit-down with Summitt, Edwards pored over the pages of the coach's playbook for life, Reach for the Summitt, on the 40-mile drive from her home in Sevierville, Tenn. When Edwards exited Summitt's second-floor office at Thompson-Boling Arena later that afternoon, the Lady Vols had a 5'11" practice player with all-state credentials, Charles and Patricia Edwards had autographed copies of the coach's book, and their 17-year-old daughter had pulled off that rarest of feats: She had won over Pat Summitt.
Such victories against Tennessee won't come as easily to teams across the nation this season, even if their campus bookstores are stocked with Reach for the Summitt. The 39-0 juggernaut that led the nation in scoring (88.8 points per game), carved up opponents by an average of 30.1 points and brought Summitt her third consecutive title and sixth in 12 seasons is back essentially intact. "Like any great team, you're going to need them to help you," says Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "You can go out and play your absolute best game, but if they play their best game, they win."
The Lady Vols didn't play their best in their first serious test of the 1998-99 season, against Purdue on Sunday, and lost 78-68 to end a 46-game winning streak, but they still figure to win it all come March. Winning, after all, has been the primary vocation of 6'2" senior forward Chamique Holdsclaw, whose streak of eight consecutive titles began when she led her eighth-grade team in Queens, N.Y., to a Lutheran-school league championship. After the Lady Vols' loss on Sunday, she needed just 98 points and eight rebounds to become the school's career leader in both categories. "Chamique's become more serious about her game than ever" says Summitt. "Her body strength has gone to another level."
Indeed, after the physical pounding they endured in last year's taut 76-70 Elite Eight victory over North Carolina, the Lady Vols vowed never to be bullied again. The memory of that near nightmare in Nashville has been exorcised with exercise in the Stokely Athletics Center's weight room this off-season. "They want to show that they can play a physical game or a finesse game this year," Summitt says.
Joining the bulked-up Holdsclaw (23.5 points, 8.4 rebounds) are her fellow All-America "Meeks": sophomore forward Tamika Catchings (18.2 points; page 144) and sophomore guard Semeka Randall (15.9 points). The unrelenting wave of speed, defense and athleticism continues with tough-as-nails senior point guard Kellie Jolly, flashy 5'11" sophomore Kristen (Ace) Clement and 6'3" sophomore center Teresa Geter. The addition of two highly touted post players—6'5" Michelle Snow and 6'3" Shalon Pillow—should help overcome the loss of junior center LaShonda Stephens, who quit in late October because of chronic knee ailments, and junior guard Kyra Elzy, who will miss at least the next three months after undergoing surgery on her right knee for the second time in two years.
"I'm not ready to crown Tennessee champion just yet," says Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore. "A lot of us are going to work hard and try to develop our teams. It would be an upset, no question. But upsets do happen." If one does, it will likely be orchestrated by Barmore, who has adopted a team slogan in each of his 17 seasons at the helm in Ruston. This year's forward-thinking theme is A Season to Remember, which will only happen if the Lady Techsters fulfill the last of the preseason goals written in their notebooks: Win a national championship.
Four starters return, including junior point guard Tamicha Jackson (14.6 points) and senior forward Amanda Wilson (18.5 points, 8.8 rebounds). Barmore hopes his seven new recruits will provide the depth he lacked last year, when Tennessee dismantled Tech 93-75 in the national championship game. He won't have to wait long to find out: The Lady Vols visit Thomas Assembly Center on Nov. 30, putting Tech's current 52-game home winning streak in serious jeopardy. "You cannot beat them unless you have production from every spot on the floor," Barmore says. "This is what everybody in the country is faced with: Do any of us have enough offense to score enough to beat them?"