Saturday, April 21, 2018
Sports

Women's college basketball preview: 5 teams, 5 players to watch

Times staff writer Joey Knight runs down what to watch for this season in women's college basketball.

Five teams to watch

1. Connecticut (35-4) Barring an injury epidemic or other catastrophe, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma will celebrate his 60th birthday (March 23, 2014) and ninth national title almost concurrently. Four starters return from Auriemma's eighth championship team.

2. Duke (33-3) Like UConn, the Blue Devils are teeming with veterans. All five starters — three of them seniors — return from last season's Elite Eight squad. All five reached double figures in Wednesday's 122-77 exhibition romp of Glenville State.

3. Louisville (29-9) The Cardinals return their top four scorers from last season's national runnerup squad. Not included in that quartet are redshirt seniors Tia Gibbs and Asia Taylor, both of whom made huge contributions before missing all of last season with injuries. Louisville visits USF on Jan. 12.

4. North Carolina (29-7) Though only a fringe national title contender, the Tar Heels could evolve into a sentimental favorite. Naismith Hall of Famer Sylvia Hatchell, 61, has temporarily stepped away from coaching duties while battling leukemia.

5. Maryland (26-8) USF fans can get a closer look at the Terrapins on Friday, when they venture to the Sun Dome for the Bulls' opener. USF coach Jose Fernandez's first order of business: neutralizing senior All-America forward Alyssa Thomas (18.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg).

Five players to watch

1. Breanna Stewart, Connecticut: A 6-foot-4 forward, she averaged 26 points and seven boards in the Huskies' two Final Four games, becoming only the fourth freshman to earn most outstanding player honors in that event.

2. Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford: A consensus All-American last season, the Cardinal's 6-5 senior forward (22.4 ppg, 12.9 rpg) likely will occupy the low block with a chip on her shoulder; Stanford was bounced by Georgia in the Sweet 16 last season.

3. Odyssey Sims, Baylor: Though mostly eclipsed by the Brittney Griner phenomenon last season, Sims still earned All-America honors (12.9 ppg, 5.8 assists).

4. Mercedes Russell, Tennessee: The Vols' highest-ranked signee since Candace Parker in 2004, Russell, a 6-6 center, won Gatorade national player of the year honors last season at Springfield (Ore.) High. She was named MVP of the McDonald's All-America Game in April, collecting 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

5. Elizabeth Williams, Duke: This two-time ACC defensive player of the year has blocked a shot in all 69 games in which she has played. That includes those four NCAA Tournament contests in 2012 when she had a stress fracture in her lower right leg.

     
 
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