Louisiana Tech missed a golden opportunity to reach the championship game when it fell to Purdue in the national semis last spring and then lost three starters, including WNBA pick Amanda Wilson, to graduation. But Barmore sees success ahead for his young team, which is the biggest he has had in the last 10 years. Helping 6'3" Shaka Massey and 6'2" Ayana Walker in the post will be two promising freshmen, 6'2" Cheryl Ford, the daughter of Tech alum Karl Malone, and 6'1" Catrina Frierson. If the big players can't get the job done on the boards, feisty 5'8" senior shooting guard Betty Lennox has said she'll step up and lead the Lady Techsters in rebounding. Barmore hopes it won't come to that. "Eventually, this will be a good team, but it may not be in the first six weeks," he says.
North Carolina will also be bigger, an easy task considering that last year the Tar Heels didn't regularly start anyone taller than 6'1". That lack of size hurt North Carolina, which got hammered by tall teams like UCLA, Duke and North Carolina State on its way to a 28-8 record and a Sweet 16 exit. This year 6'5" sophomore LaShonda Allen, who got significantly stronger, quicker and slimmer over the summer, may help the Heels address their matchup difficulties. "My role is to play D against the big girls like [ N.C. State's 6'6" Summer] Erb," says Allen. "She doesn't know it yet, but she won't be making the shots she made on us last year."
Allen's defense will be tested on Dec. 4 against NOTRE DAME and 6'5" junior Ruth Riley, an old-fashioned back-to-the-basket center who led the nation in shooting percentage (.683) and had 3.3 blocks per game last season. Riley is complemented by the speedy senior backcourt of Danielle Green and Niele (Poison) Ivey, who may be the most underrated point guard in the nation (13.2 points and 6.5 assists per game in 1998-99). Ivey missed the final three games last season after suffering her second ACL injury and can't wait for the season to start. "I'm just excited to be playing," she says. "Every time I make it through practice, I want to throw a party."
Speaking of celebrations, the good times rolled often last season at LOUISIANA STATE, which upset Tennessee 72-69 on Feb. 21 and made a surprise appearance in the Sweet 16. Fans of the Lady Tigers toasted the spectacular play of 5'11" forward DeTrina White, who led the SEC with 12 double doubles and was named the conference's freshman of the year. "DeTrina is the kind of player you get once in your career," says coach Sue Gunter, who has been on the bench for 36 years. Another player to watch is senior Katrina Hibbert, a versatile small forward who does "whatever she needs to do for us to win," says Gunter. Hibbert wants to recapture the feeling the Lady Tigers had when they beat Tennessee. "It was like winning a national championship," she says, "and that has to be the best feeling in the world."