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Fouls Bog Down Women's Game


Stephanie Gaitley sat in her office Wednesday with her 5-month-old son Jordan Cooper on her lap and talked about hoops, perspective, playing Tennessee the day after its first loss in 46 games and how basketball is starting to resemble field hockey.

Field hockey?

No offense against that sport, said Gaitley, the coach at St. Joseph's (Pa.). "I just personally have a hard time watching it."

Too many whistles. Just like the first week of the women's college basketball season. The officials, ordered to crack down on physical play, are zealously enforcing the hand-checking rule. UConn has scored 100-plus points in its first three games--and not against cupcake opponents. Against UCLA, UConn was 24-for-39 at the free-throw line. Six of UCLA's eight players had four or five fouls.

In the St. Joseph's-Tennessee game Monday, there were 54 fouls. Of course, if the Hawks had made more than 17 of their 31 free-throw attempts, the score might have been a little closer than 108-63.

Gaitley, like many coaches, players, fans and TV broadcasters, dislikes the emphasis on hand-checking. Not, as she said, that it particularly affected her team against Tennessee.

"If you play intense aggressive defense, you're at a disadvantage," Gaitley said. "I think they overdid it, basically. It became a boring game to watch, because it kept stopping."

The stepped-up enforcement will affect teams such as Tennessee, Gaitley said, who like to play aggressive defense, but are a little low on depth at the moment. A team such as UConn, which goes 10 deep, will not be affected as much.

Not that Gaitley feels bad for Tennessee. Oh, no. When Purdue beat the Vols Sunday to end their 46-game streak, Gaitley knew her team would be in for a rough time Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.

"I'm going to call (Purdue coach) Carolyn Peck and say, 'Thanks a lot,' " Gaitley said, laughing. "I mean, you're torn, because you have to go in believing you'll win every game. . . but having lost that game, you knew whoever had them next was going to pay the price. Unfortunately, it was us."

Gaitley looked on the bright side. A few years earlier, the St. Joseph's men's team played an aggressive schedule, opening with Duke on the road, where "they got their heads handed to them. And they ended up in the sweet 16 that year."

Meanwhile, Gaitley, a mother of three, was playing with Jordan and busy planning her oldest's birthday party at the gym later in the week, complete with a clown. Tennessee? Loss? What loss? "(The kids) keep my life in perspective," she said.


Sitting next to announcers Ann Meyers and Nancy Lieberman-Cline at last Sunday's Purdue-Tennessee thriller was ESPN women's basketball programming director Carol Stiff. And she was legitimately thrilled, despite the fact that her carefully planned prime-time No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup (Tennessee vs. Louisiana Tech, Nov. 30, 7 p.m.) had just dissolved on the Mackey Arena court.

"It was great for women's basketball," said Stiff, who almost got knocked over by an exuberant Purdue football player jumping onto the court after the 78-68 Purdue victory. Purdue is now No. 1; Louisiana Tech, No. 3; and Tennessee, No. 4.

The last time ESPN televised a regular-season No. 1 vs No. 2 game was January 1995, when Tennessee played UConn for the first time.

The way Stiff looks at it, the Nov. 30 game is still a national championship rematch and still a great game. Louisiana Tech holds the longest home court winning streak (52 games) in the country.


No. 13 George Washington will play No. 20 Florida in the first game of the Reebok Classic doubleheader Sunday at the FleetCenter in Boston. Host Boston College will play Michigan State at 3 p.m. George Washington got a boost Thursday night against William and Mary from Slovakian forward Petra Dubovcova, who missed most of last season with an ACL tear. She showed no ill effects Thursday in GW's victory, with a 25-point, 11-rebound effort. The Colonials, still without top forward Noelia Gomez (knee injury), are 2-0. Florida is 3-1 after losing to Colorado State in the preseason NIT semifinal, 80-65. . . . Colorado State, led by two-time WAC player of the year Becky Hammon, should move into the top 25 this week after beating both Florida and No. 11 Rutgers for the preseason NIT title. . . .ESPN's Robin Roberts on the hand-checking enforcement and plethora of fouls: "It's death for a TV game. Two-and-a-half hours for a game? That's not fun for anybody. The game was getting too physical, but it seems like there's a happy medium."

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