Note: This is the final installment of Paul Johnson's "Courtside Conversations" for the 2001-02 season. He will resume this column again next fall.
The Arizona women's basketball season is over long before any of us had hoped it would be. A loss to ASU in the first round of the conference tournament pours salt in the open wound that was the 2001-02 season. However, there is good reason to be optimistic about next year and here is why...
Let's take each Pac-10 team and quickly examine the tools they will bring to the table in 2002-03, in order of their expected finish (at least where I expect them to finish):
- 1. Stanford = The Cardinal will again be the favorite to win the Pac-10 title but will suffer some key losses. Scoring leader Lindsey Yamasaki will graduate, as will four other seniors who are important role players -- Bethany Donaphin, Cori Enghusen, Enjoli Izidor, and Lauren St. Clair. Even with these losses, the Cardinal will have Player of the Year Nicole Powell returning, and that will be enough for them to repeat as champion.
2. USC = I hesitate to pick USC to do anything good because of their reputation as underachievers. However, their talent will be terrific next season. The team will lose just one senior, Tiffany Elmore, and will return All-Pac-10 star Ebony Hoffman. On talent alone, one would think that USC should challenge for the conference title.
3. Washington = The Huskies finished second in the Pac-10 standings this season but were eliminated in the first round of the conference tournament by seventh-seeded Oregon. Washington's 17 wins and low RPI will most likely keep them out of the NCAA Tournament this year, however, they should be competitive next season. Washington is a young team, and both All-Pac-10 players Giuliana Mendiola and Loree Payne are back. The Huskies will finish in the upper division in 2002-03.
4. Arizona = The Cats finished a disappointing sixth in the conference this season, but next year should be better. Shawntinice Polk, the number-one-ranked post-player coming out of high school last year, will finally be eligible in December. Australian standout Katrina Lindner will also have rehabbed her season-ending knee injury and will give Arizona a deep backcourt. Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Dee-Dee Wheeler will get even better, and so will sophomore point guard Aimee Grzyb. Arizona will have to find help at the post by inking another player in the late signing period. Next year's recruiting class is an "impact" class, so the Cats should be back in line for an NCAA Tournament bid.
5. Oregon = The Ducks transitioned to new head coach Bev Smith with a better-than-expected season in 2001-02. A sixth-place tie with Arizona led to a semi-final berth in the Pac-10 Tournament, and next year the Ducks will be improved. The Ducks lose just Alyssa Fredrick and Ndidi Unaka, so Oregon will be its usual competitive self in 2003.
6. Oregon State = The Beavers will be hurt by graduation, and especially the loss of 2000-01 Pac-10 Player of the Year Felicia Ragland. Ericka Cook and Kristina Rukstelyte will also graduate, but Ragland's loss could be devastating. One wonders where they will find offense and leadership from a player who not only scored points, but also led by example.
7. Arizona State = No conference team will be hurt more by graduation than ASU. The Sun Devils are finishing an outstanding season that includes a Pac-10 Tournament Championship. However, next year things are not nearly as promising. Seniors Amanda Levens, Cian Carvalho, Leah Combs, Rainy Crisp, and Melody Johnson will all be gone, and so will the heart of the team. It will be back to reality for Sun Devil fans in 2002-03.
8. UCLA = The Bruins were bad this year, and they will be bad next year. One-time conference scoring champion Michelle Greco may return, if the NCAA grants her a medical hardship redshirt season, and that could give UCLA one or two more wins.
9. California = Could things get worse for this program? Yes! The only offensive threat the Bears offer, Ami Forney, will graduate, and that will leave Cal punchless in 2002-03. After all, they managed only 41 points against UCLA in this year's conference tournament, and that was with a double-double from Forney! The highlight film will be a short one next season in Berkeley.
10. Washington State = What is there to say about the talentless Cougars? They were horrible this year and they will be horrible next year. The only question that faces this team is who will be their next head coach? Jenny Przekwas has been fired, and Brittney Hawks, the team's leading scorer, will graduate this year.
So, this is how I see the conference next season. Of course, over the long summer months, there will injuries and defections. One thing is certain -- it will be another crazy season of Pac-10 women's basketball!
See you on the radio!
* All games next season will be heard live on KJLL 1330 AM.
Arizona Athletics Women's Basketball
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