COLLEGE BASKETBALL: 1994-95 PREVIEW : WOMEN'S BASKETBALL / AROUND THE NATION : Stanford Serves Notice That It Will Be in Hunt for Title

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The tremors reverberating out of Palo Alto last Saturday were only the first aftershocks from Stanford's freshman class, called by many the best in a decade in women's basketball.

In the season opener, Stanford played Purdue, which reached the Final Four last season after beating Stanford on its own court, 82-65, in the West Regional final.

New year, new teams, new result.

Stanford won, 62-52.

The most successful women's team of the 1990s--winner of national championships in 1990 and 1992--Stanford is back.

Not that it was ever gone.

Coach Tara VanDerveer's team failed to win the Pacific 10 Conference for the first time in five years last season, but the Cardinal is still the class of the conference.

Its records the last seven seasons: 27-5, 28-3, 32-1, 26-6, 30-3, 26-6 and 25-6.

Denied entry to the Final Four the past two seasons by Purdue last spring and Texas Tech in 1993, Stanford's armory is loaded and pointed toward the Target Center in Minneapolis, site of the Final Four in April.

The NCAA's West Regional semifinals and final will be played at UCLA March 23-25.

There was fair warning last spring, when Stanford announced what it called one of the most successful recruiting hauls ever in women's basketball.

The best of the six players signed by the Cardinal is believed to be Kristin Folkl of St. Louis, who can dunk. She'll join the team after the volleyball season.

The others were Heather Owen, Idaho's prep player of the year; Regan Freuen of Spokane, Wash.; Chandra Benton of Lake Oswego, Ore., who probably will be a redshirt this season; Naomi Mulitauaopele of Seattle and Olympia Scott of Los Angeles.

In addition, the Cardinal has four starters back from a team that went 15-3 in the Pac-10.

Returning in the middle is 6-foot-5 Anita Kaplan, arguably the nation's best post player. Also back: Rachel Hemmer, Jamila Wideman and Kate Paye.

Kaplan and Hemmer were all-conference players last season and Wideman and reserve Kate Starbird made the all-freshman team.

Hemmer is still recovering from ankle surgery last spring and has not practiced. VanDerveer says she is still in rehab, hasn't practiced and might not play this year.

Nevertheless, the well was deep enough that Stanford was ranked fifth in the Associated Press preseason poll. Purdue was second.

Tennessee is tabbed No. 1 by nearly everyone, but if VanDerveer can blend her rich talent into a cohesive unit, it's difficult to imagine anyone stopping the Cardinal come tournament time.

Even the coach agrees. For one thing, the Cardinal is deep.

"The depth is the big difference this year," VanDerveer said. "Last year we worried about foul trouble all the time.

"I was happy with the Purdue result with the exception of our rebounding. With so many young players, it's hard to convey to them how hard you have to play at this level."

Stanford will aim its sights on at least two other ranked teams before beginning Pac-10 play Jan. 5 against Washington. The Cardinal will play host to ninth-ranked Texas Tech tonight and visits Tennessee next Thursday.

Stanford could also meet 13th-ranked Iowa in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic on Dec. 18 at Jackson, Tenn.

Elsewhere, Louisiana Tech and Tennessee seem like the class teams.

Leon Barmore's Lady Techsters came within .7 of a second of a national championship last season. North Carolina's Charlotte Smith smashed their hopes with a three-point shot in the final second of the national title game.

Gone is All-American guard Pam Thomas, whose baseline jumper in the final seconds appeared to have clinched a national title.

But four other starters return and Barmore calls his incoming recruits outstanding.

Barmore, 338-56 in 13 seasons, calls two of his returnees, Debra Williams and Vickie Johnson, "as good as anyone in America."

His team plays at Long Beach State on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tennessee was overpowering last season, beginning with a victory over Stanford. The Lady Vols won their first 14 games, stumbled at Rutgers, then won another 17 in a row before losing to Louisiana Tech, 71-68, in the Mideast Regional.

Coach Pat Summitt, in her 21st season, has four starters back from a 31-2 team.

Leading the charge is player-of-the-year candidate Nikki McCray, a 5-11 senior who averaged 16.3 points and 2.5 steals a game last season.

North Carolina's three returning starters include Final Four MVP Charlotte Smith, but gone are center Sylvia Crawley and forward Tonya Sampson. Track star Marion Jones is back at the point.

Washington, 20-9 overall and 12-6 in the Pac-10 last season, got everyone's attention with a 79-75 victory over Texas Tech on Tuesday night, ending a 24-game home winning streak for the Lady Raiders.

Coach Chris Gobrecht has four starters back, including one of the Pac-10's most physical players, Rhonda Smith, who scored 38 points against Texas Tech and was MVP of the Preseason NIT.

And Gobrecht has bolstered her roster with another French player, Laure Savasta, who joins countrywoman Katia Foucade.

Washington was 17th in the AP preseason poll but Husky hopes have soared since the victory over Texas Tech. If Stanford stumbles in the Pac-10, it will likely be Washington doing the tripping.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°