Texas graduated three starters, yet the Lady Longhorns will be better than the team that went 34-0 last season and won the national championship. How? Well, Texas may have outscored its opponents by an average of 26.7 points a game in '85-86, but its bench outscored the starting five by an average of 42.3 points to 41.6.
The main Pine Sister was Clarissa Davis, heiress apparent to Southern Cal graduate Cheryl Miller as the most talented player in the women's game. Davis, a 6'1" forward, staked her claim in last season's Final Four when she struck in two games for 56 points and 32 rebounds in 51 minutes. As a freshman. Off the bench. Look for "Go," who can leap more than 32 inches from a standing position, to throw down a dunk before her college career is over.
Davis's slammer, if it should come this season, might come at the end of a patented Lady Longhorn fast break, off a feed from Andrea Lloyd, who at times may be the biggest point guard in the nation. Lloyd, who averaged 9.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game at her regular forward position last season, is 6'2" and ambidextrous—a female version of Magic Johnson. And, as if Texas needs an extra boost, coach Jody Conradt's special project this season is Ellen Bayer, a 6'8" freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz. Beanpole thin at 180 pounds, Bayer will spend most of her time posted up in the weight room, a la Manute Bol.
Texas has its sights set on the record of 54 consecutive victories held by LOUISIANA TECH, a team good enough to be considered the best of the rest. Along with Teresa Weatherspoon are three other returning starters, notably leading scorer and rebounder, 6'4" center Tori Harrison. Maybe the best news is that sophomore Nora Lewis, who was averaging 13.3 points per game when she went down with a knee injury 15 games into last season, is back and healthy.
Auburn has all five starters back from last season's 24-6 team, including SEC Rookie of the Year, 6' 2" Vicki Orr, and sister act Mae Ola and Ruthie Bolton. The Boltons—Mae Ola is a junior and Ruthie a sophomore—learned to compete in a family of 20 children in McLain, Miss. Their experience will be needed if the Lady Tigers are to prevail in the SEC, the nation's toughest women's basketball family.
Tennessee is to the women's game what Louisville is to the men's: Take a few losses and end up the bosses. Last season's Lady Vols went 24-10 and made it to the NCAA semis before losing to USC. The entire starting five returns, with 6'4" center Sheila (Pee-Wee) Frost the most imposing member of the group. Frost (12.2 points per game and 78 blocks) and Bridgette Gordon (14.2 points per game) were the first freshmen ever to start for coach Pat Summit.
Rutgers, 29-4 in '85-86, has all five starters back and is led by 6'2" forward Sue Wicks, the only underclassman to make first-team All-America last season. Wicks (21.8 points, 10.1 rebounds per game) and Regina Howard (14.7, 8.2) form a twin-tower combo known as Wicks and Sticks. At IOWA, freshman Franthea Price, a 5'9" guard who was Michigan's Miss Basketball, and junior Michelle Edwards will light it up from outside while the rest of the Lady Hawk-eyes bump.
Cheryl Miller won't be missed entirely at SOUTHERN CAL; she'll be back as a graduate assistant to coach Linda Sharp while getting her master's degree in fine arts. Moreover, the Women of Troy will be welcoming Monica Lamb, a 6'6" transfer from Houston who built up her game running in summer-league games at the Fonde Rec Center with the likes of Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. USC would have been far more fearsome had top recruit Tammy Hammond not been rendered ineligible by failing to meet the academic requirements of NCAA Bylaw 5-1-(j).
Western Kentucky is the only team to have made the Final Four each of the last two seasons. The Lady Toppers will have trouble making it three straight now that Lillie Mason (20 points per game) has graduated. Still, Clemette Haskins (12.8 points per game) is back along with Tracy Patton, a 6'2", 195-pound junior forward who will move some bodies in coach Paul Sanderford's Mad Dog defense.
Georgia lost Teresa Edwards and her 19.7 points per game (she's playing in Italy), and two other players who would have returned are academic casualties. The Lady Bulldogs are short on guards but they still have the game's best center in 6'2" Katrina (Tree) McClain (21.3 points, 10.1 rebounds per game).