Clemson is feeling the stress going into the tournament. Stress fractures, that is.
The Tigers are so beaten up that coach Jim Davis is wondering how they'll get through their first-round game today against Chattanooga in the Mideast Region.
Senior Andrea Gaines has three stress fractures, one in each foot and one in a leg. Junior Krystal Scott has a stress fracture and freshman Julie Aderhold is being treated for an Achilles' tendon problem.
Sophomore Heather Crowe has a bulging disc in her back and is not expected to play in the tournament.
"We're a little beaten up right now and I don't know why, because we gave them almost all week off," said Davis, whose team is the No. 5 seed. "We had one practice last week. You'd think those injuries would heal, but they haven't done so."
The race for the national championship begins today, a three-week run that seems more open than originally thought.
Clemson (20-9) expected a strong tournament run after finishing second in the ACC. The Tigers are ranked 22nd and were one of three teams to beat Duke, the ACC champion and No. 1 seed in the West.
The injuries leave Davis concerned about preparation. He said the team had its worst practice of the season Monday, "simply because we didn't have enough players to compete five-on-five."
Defending champion Connecticut began the season as a prohibitive favorite to repeat, but a loss at Notre Dame showed that coach Geno Auriemma's team could be beaten. Injuries to stars Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph also have weakened the Huskies, although they haven't lost since Abrosimova went down on Feb. 1.
Tennessee, which lost to UConn in the championship game last year, also isn't the team it was at the start. The Vols lost Tamika Catchings to a knee injury Jan. 15.
All of which gives hope to others.
"I think it gives it a little more parity," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, whose team is seeded No. 1 in the Midwest. "I think teams when they get to neutral floors feel they have a chance to beat some teams.
"Before you could pretty much write in the Final Four teams. I don't think that's the case this year."
DIVISION III PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tasha Rogers, who led Washington University to a fourth straight appearance in the Final Four, won the honor. The 5-10 senior forward averaged 19.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.
ACADEMIC ALL-AMERICANS: The first team was announced: Southwest Missouri State's Jackie Stiles, Notre Dame's Ruth Riley, Purdue's Katie Douglas and Camille Cooper and Iowa's Lindsey Meder.
ST. MARY'S: Coach Michelle Yacoby had a long trip from California to think about being seeded No. 9 and sent to the Mideast Region. She's still not happy with the decision. On Thursday, she quickly ticked off several of her Gaels' accomplishments this season, including a 10-game winning streak, a 25-5 record, a 30 ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index, winning the West Coast Conference regular-season title and the tournament's automatic bid.
TEXAS: The Longhorns practiced while guard Tai Dillard had reconstructive surgery on her left knee in San Antonio. She had been second in scoring with 10.4 points and started the first 25 games before tearing the ACL in her left knee during practice on Feb. 16.
_ TIMES WIRES