It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Women’s College Basketball Is Back. A 2012-13 Season Preview.
The Big 4:
UCONN Huskies: Last Season: 33-5; Lost in the National Semifinal to Big East rival Notre Dame 83-75.
Key Returning Players: Junior, G, Bria Hartley; Junior, C, Stephanie Dolson; Sophomore, W, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
The biggest shock of this season would be if this team did not make its 6th consecutive Final Four. A 6th straight Final Four is not a stat thrown around in Women’s College Basketball and is a testament to the relentless coaching and recruiting of Head Coach Geno Auriemma and staff. And this season, the recruiting may well be the catalyst for the Huskies. Ranked the #1 incoming class in the country, guard Moriah Jefferson, forward Morgan Tuck and the headliner, the nation’s #1 recruit, center Brianna Stewart, will give Geno something he frankly has not had in a while: a solid bench. As was quoted in an ESPN.com article at the end of last season: “The rich just got richer.”
Baylor Lady Bears: Last Season: 40-0; National Champions, defeated Notre Dame 80-61
Key Returning Players: Senior, C, Brittney Griner; Junior, G, Odyssey Sims
One would assume that coming off of a 40-0 National Championship season with your entire starting five returning, Baylor should have no problem repeating last year’s success, right? This year’s pursuit of a National Championship may come with more pressure than the last, because with the player of a generation in Brittney Griner one year smarter and better, is there really any other option besides winning? You better believe that every team that crosses Baylor’s path this season is going to do everything they can to see them face defeat, something they have not done since March 29th 2001.
Duke Blue Devils: Last Season: 27-6; Lost in the Elite 8 to the Stanford Cardinal 81-69.
Key Returning Players: Junior, Guard, Chelsea Gray; Sophomore, Center, Elizabeth Williams
I remember watching Duke play last year and thinking that I wish I had junior point guard Chelsea Gray’s ability to see things before they happen. Because, that is exactly what she does. A true point guard in every sense of the definition, Gray brings an excitement and freshness to the position who’s only downfall last season was that her talented teammates were not quite on the same wavelength as her, yet. I then thought that when they did start to click, this team would be scary, scary good. Look for this Duke team under Joanne P. McCallie to frighten you for the next several years, in a good way.
Maryland Terrapins: Last Season: 31-5; Lost in the Elite 8 to Notre Dame 80-49.
Key Returning Players: Junior, G, Alyssa Thomas; Junior, G, Laurin Mincy
A 30-point loss to Notre Dame in the Elite 8 is not how Brenda Frese’s Terrapins thought last season would end. But, unlike the Irish, who have lost three members of their starting five since, Maryland’s young stars are one year wiser and one year hungrier. Look for Alyssa Thomas to find her place as the team’s leader and stellar guard Laurin Mincy to follow her lead this season.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish: The #1 ranked point guard in the nation Skylar Diggins, will have to prove that she is just that as she looks to lead the Irish in her senior campaign without the three teammates that contributed over 30 ppg last season – Devereaux Peters, Natalie Novosel, and Brittany Mallory. This is without question Diggins’ team, but the player who will likely determine the Irish’s season success is junior, center, Natalie Achonwa. She is their post presence. If she cannot effectively contribute game in and game out, the Irish will be in trouble.
Tennessee Lady Vols: A new era begins in Knoxville, as the Lady Vol sideline officially belongs to Holly Warlick, and no longer to the legend Pat Summitt. As a former player and 27-year assistant of Summitt’s, expect Warlick to expect nothing less than Summitt did throughout her 38-year tenure. The Lady Vol’s know that this season brings change, but that it also brings opportunity.
Kim Barnes-Arico: Beloved Head Coach Kim Barnes-Arico, much to the Women’s College basketball community’s surprise, left her post as the skipper of the Red Storm for the open head coaching position of the Michigan Wolverines. Barnes-Arico can easily be credited with putting St. John’s on the map during her decade-long tenure, by heavily recruiting locally and preaching a style of play built on defense, speed and a killer back court. It will be interesting to see how the Red Storm carry on under long-time Assistant Coach (9 years under Barnes-Arico) John Tartamella, and equally how Barnes-Arico fairs in her first year out of the Big East and in the Big 10. St. John’s reached the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time last year and has key players returning in guards Shenneika Smith and Nadirah McKenith.
Players To Watch:
Elena delle Donne: I would argue the Elena delle Donne is a more exciting player than Britney Griner. Her game brings new meaning to the word dynamic. She’ll rebound the ball like a center, move it up the floor like a point guard and pull up for a 3-point shot like a shooting guard. It is beyond impressive, and Delle Donne and company will surely look to exceed last season’s accomplishments, which put them on the map. Last year it was all Delle Donne, but if she can get well-balanced help from her teammates, the Blue Hens of Delaware could do some damage.
A’dia Mathies: Start. Stop. Hesitation. Accelerate. Pull-up. Swish. Such is the narration of a typical in-game play from Kentucky senior, guard, A’dia Mathies. Mathis averaged 15.0 ppg last season for the Wildcats and don’t expect her to slow down this season. Last year, coach Matthew Mitchell hung a Final Four poster in the locker room for the entire season as motivation to his players. UCONN knocked off Kentucky in a tense Elite 8 match-up. There is no doubt that Mathies will step up and lead this team in her senior year. Final Four or bust.
Chiney Ogwumike: Powerful forward Chiney Ogwumike enters the spotlight and takes command of the Stanford Cardinals in the wake of her All-American older sister, Nneka entering the WNBA. Chiney and Nneka were easily the best frontcourt 1-2 punch in Women’s College basketball last season. This season, Chiney will have to find help from senior Joslyn Tinkle, junior Toni Kokenis, and sophomores Taylor Greenfield and Amber Orrange if the Cardinal is going to make a Final Four run this season.
Whitney Hand: Whitney Hand is easily one of my favorite players in Women’s College Basketball. She is just a solid, solid player; straight hustle, defense and fearless attack. Any youngsters out there who need a first-class lesson in leadership, watch Whitney Hand play. To make Oklahoma among the final four standing in April, the senior will leave everything on the court.