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COLLEGE BASKETBALL 1991-92 : WOMEN'S BASKETBALL / NATIONAL PREVIEW : Tennessee Hasn't Lost a Step

November 16, 1991|PETE THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The South will probably rise again next spring in Los Angeles, while folks from the West, many say, will be around merely to extend hospitality.

So strong are Southern women's basketball teams this season--not unlike previous seasons--that representation from one or more is almost certain in the first NCAA Final Four to be held here since 1984.

Tennessee, the defending national champion and winner of three of the last five titles, is so loaded with talent that the only trouble Coach Pat Summitt will have is finding enough playing time for a number of players who deserve plenty.

The Volunteers, 30-5 last season, lost only one player, but a key one, All-American center Daedra Charles. They remain solid, however, with 5-foot-10 guard Dena Head, 6-2 center Kelli Castell, 6-0 forward Lisa Harrison and 5-4 guard Jody Adams.

A key newcomer is 5-6 guard Tiffany Woosley, the top high school player in Tennessee last season. Freshman centers Dana Johnson and Vonda Ward--who stands 6 feet 6--were also among the 10 top high school prospects in the country a year ago.

"They'll be younger, but they'll still be good," Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan said of her team's fiercest rival. "They are the top team . . . or at least the team to beat."

Tennessee kept Virginia from winning its first NCAA title last season with a 70-67 overtime victory in the championship game at New Orleans.

"Most teams would have been happy to accomplish the things we did a year ago, but we are not satisfied and won't be until we win a national title," Ryan said.

Virginia (30-3) was No. 1 in the Associated Press women's poll for 15 of 17 weeks last season and should challenge Tennessee for the top spot much of this season--and possibly in a rematch in the 1992 national final April 5 at the Sports Arena.

The Cavaliers lost one starter, the versatile Tonya Cardoza. But their backcourt is solid with senior Dawn Staley, last season's player of the year, and Tammy Reiss handling the ball.

Without Cardoza, Virginia will be smaller on the perimeter but stronger than ever at the post with the 6-3 Melanee Wagener returning and Katasha Artis, the 1990 New York state player of the year, coming into the program as a 6-0 redshirt freshman to replace Cardoza.

Virginia also has the 6-5 Burge twins, Heather and Heidi, coming back for a third season. The juniors from Palos Verdes would like nothing better than to return to Los Angeles for some home cooking next spring.

"That would be lovely," Heather Burge said. "I'm missing it right now."

Although a repeat matchup of last season's championship game teams appears very possible, there are others that could make it:

--Georgia (28-4) appeared last season as though it would be the team to beat. But the Bulldogs lost to an injury-riddled Stanford team in the West Regional title game at Las Vegas.

--Penn State (29-2) is talented enough to defeat any team but plays one of the most difficult schedules in the country. The Nittany Lions, who left the Atlantic 10 Conference and are headed for the Big Ten next season, are playing this season as independents.

--Auburn (26-6) is minus three key backcourt players but has an experienced front line. Coach Joe Ciampi will work with former backup guards and newcomers to find the best mix.

--Purdue (26-3) has lost three starters but has an All-American candidate in guard MaChelle Joseph and an experienced forward in Donna Gill providing leadership.

--Iowa (21-5) is a longshot. But the Hawkeyes finished well, considering that the team consisted mostly of freshmen. They lost only one starter and have seven players 6 feet or taller.

Other possible Final Four participants include Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Texas, Stephen F. Austin, USC, Cal State Long Beach and Washington.

But as far as the West is concerned, the best hope appears to be Stanford, a semifinalist last season.

Still, Stanford (28-6) has to overcome the loss of All-American guard Sonja Henning and center Trisha Stevens to graduation, and Julie Zielstra to a chronic Achilles' heel. "Maybe now we're going to see if we know how to coach," said Coach Tara VanDerveer, who is 113-15 over the last four seasons.

Cardinal returnees of note include 6-3 Val Whiting, one of the nation's strongest inside players, Molly Goodenbour, Kelly Dougherty, Ann Adkins and shooting guard Christy Hedgepath.

On the recruiting front, VanDerveer did as well as nearly anyone, getting Rachael Hemmer, a 6-3 forward who will start, and Anita Kaplan, a \o7 big\f7 6-5 center who was branded by some as too slow.

"Our track coach has gotten a hold of her and she's enjoying running," VanDerveer said of Kaplan. "She's going to be a force."

Said VanDerveer: "We're not going to have games where we're up 20-30 points. (But) I don't know that there's any team that's head and shoulders ahead of anybody else. With the exception, maybe, of Tennessee."

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