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Mindful of history, Florida to test Tech

You would think that after all these years, nothing the Louisiana Tech women's basketball team does could be surprising.

Yet the pollsters were caught off-guard by the young, inexperienced Techsters this season. Figuring the loss of five starters would slow them down at least a little bit, the coaches voted them No. 11 in the preseason Top 25, and the Associated Press knocked them all the way to No. 14.

Big mistake. The next week, Louisiana Tech upset defending national champion Tennessee.

Consider it a lesson learned. These days, the Techsters (31-3) are in their rightful spot among the top five.

It's a classic example of how the best women's teams spend time reloading rather than rebuilding. Now Louisiana Tech, the only team besides Tennessee to have earned a berth in all 16 NCAA women's tournaments, is ranked No. 5 and seeded second, behind Old Dominion in the Mideast Regional. The Techsters take on third-seeded and seventh-ranked Florida (23-8) at 2:30 p.m. today at Purdue's Mackey Arena.

Again, it would be easy for the Gators to underestimate five players _ none of them seniors _ who never started an NCAA Tournament game before this season.

But Florida coach Carol Ross, whose team is in the Sweet 16 for the first time, knows better. How could she not, when Auburn _ the team Florida lost to in the Southeastern Conference final three games ago _ lost 74-48 to Louisiana Tech in the second round?

"(They're) one of the most aggressive teams in the country," Ross said. "Now we are underdogs for the first time in the tournament. It's a role we can relish and one we can look forward to playing. Hopefully we can prove a lot of people wrong."

Leading Louisiana Tech is 6-foot-3 junior center Alisa Burras, a junior-college transfer who is averaging 18.3 points and was named the Sun Belt Conference player of the year. Just as talked-about this season has been 5-5 freshman point guard Tamicha Jackson, who averages 12.4 points and was named most valuable player of the Women's Preseason NIT.

Rounding out the starting five are three sophomores who were reserves last year, when the Techsters were ranked No. 1 most of the season.

Although Burras will have both senior All-American DeLisha Milton and junior Murriel Page to contend with inside, much of the duty of guarding Jackson will go to point guard Mahogany Hudson.

"We're fortunate that Mahogany thrives in the post-season," Ross said. "She really steps up big. Jackson's a freshman, and Mo needs to treat her like one."

Milton has received the greatest accolades among the Gators, but in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, UF unveiled a more balanced squad. The guards starred in the first-round victory against Florida International, then Page turned it on for 35 points and 16 rebounds two days later against Southern Cal.

That's just the Gators' way of saying Louisiana Tech isn't the only team that has been underestimated.

"It makes us a better team," junior guard Dana Smith said. "It's easy to stop maybe one or two players from scoring, but if you have five, six, seven players that are all going to score, that makes a team hard to stop."