Monique Reid's 21st birthday last March 26 was memorable—for all the wrong reasons. Not only were her No. 7--seeded Cardinals upset by No. 11--seeded Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, but the 6'1" forward also injured her groin during warmups and was limited to one basket in five frustrating minutes in the 76--69 loss. Now healthy, the senior Wade Trophy candidate (a team-high 15.5 points per game last season) is one of five starters back, along with 5'9" sophomore point guard Shoni Schimmel (15.1 points and 4.9 assists). Promises Reid, "We're going to be scary."
6 TEXAS A&M
Coach Gary Blair wants to make one thing clear: "We were not Cinderella last year," he says. The defending champs could be the belles of the Big Dance again thanks to a trio of returning senior starters (5'6" guard Sydney Carter, 6-foot guard Tyra White and 6'1" forward Adaora Elonu) and the debut of 6'4" junior center Kelsey Bone, who averaged 14.0 points and 9.2 rebounds as a freshman at South Carolina in 2009--10 before transferring to College Station.
Did Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer party with Dennis Rodman when both were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in August? Sort of. "We had a family breakfast the following morning, and Dennis made a cameo," says VanDerveer, who has a career record of 674--147 in 25 years in Palo Alto. "But I don't think he had gone to bed yet." Don't sleep on this team even though the roster is full of underclassmen. The Ogwumike sisters—6'2" senior Nneka (17.5 points per game) and 6'3" sophomore Chiney (11.7)—are the top returning scorers. Speedy freshman point guard Amber Orrange (her mother, Elexa, was a U.S. triple jumper at the 1996 Olympics) is the most decorated of the six incoming players.
In one of the best rebuilding jobs in women's college basketball, reigning national coach of the year Katie Meier has taken the Hurricanes from worst to first in the ACC over the last six seasons. The team is ranked in the Top 10 for the first time since 1992,and has all five starters back, including its All-America senior guard duo of 5'11" Shenise (Moe-Moe) Johnson, the 2010--11 ACC player of the year, and 5'7" Riquna (Bay-Bay) Williams. The pair combined to average 41.4 points last season, and they'll be even better with the addition of Shawnice (Pepper) Wilson, a 6'6" Pitt transfer who has the power to transform the Hurricanes by giving them the interior presence the team lacked last season.
"The unknown is exciting," says coach Joanne P. McCallie. The Blue Devils, who have won the ACC regular-season title in two of the last four seasons, may be callow (five sophomores and four freshmen), but they are surely talented—McCallie signed a top five recruiting class for the second straight year. Point guard Chelsea Gray (8.7 ppg, 2.5 apg) and guard-forward Haley Peters (6.3 ppg), both sophomores, are emerging stars, and the terrific incoming group includes Elizabeth Williams, a rugged 6'3" center, and Amber Henson, a 6'4" forward who is the younger sister of North Carolina star forward John Henson.