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Schedules Follow Stanford's Lead

October 30, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE — Before worrying about how to unseat two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut, the Pacific 10 Conference women's basketball coaches want to solve another puzzle.

Stanford, picked by the media to win a fourth straight regular-season title, is again deep and talented. Five starters return from last year's 27-5 squad, led by All-American forward Nicole Powell, a senior.

In the preseason media poll, Stanford received all 18 first-place votes and finished with 180 points. Arizona was second, followed by Washington, Arizona State and USC. Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, California and Washington State completed the top 10.

The coaches' poll also lists Stanford as the team to beat.

In an effort to challenge the Cardinal, Pac-10 teams are strengthening their nonconference schedules. UCLA, for example, will play Texas, Purdue and Ohio State, and USC will play Notre Dame, Connecticut and Colorado.

"Stanford sets the example," Washington State Coach Sherri Murrill said. "We all want to get into the NCAA tournament. They beef up their schedule to get ready."

Said Oregon Coach Bev Smith, whose team will play Kansas this season: "All of the Pac-10 schools are stronger and feel good about their programs. In the long run, [tougher schedules] are going to be good for us and make us stronger for our conference competition."

Arizona State Coach Charli Turner Thorne, whose team plays Connecticut and Kansas State, sees tougher nonconference schedules as a way to lift the Pac-10's national reputation.

"Sure we want to catch Stanford. But we also have to strengthen our RPI rating as a conference," she said, referring to the Ratings Percentage Index, which uses winning percentage, schedule strength and opponents' schedule strength to help the NCAA select its tournament field. "We're one of the few big conferences that still plays 18 conference games, plus a conference tournament. If we're going to play each other this much, it kills us [nationally] if half the conference has lousy RPIs."

But as USC Coach Chris Gobrecht pointed out, Pac-10 teams have to do more than stack their schedules with good teams.

"We have been blowing the Pac-10 horn for a long time and not getting the rest of nation to notice," Gobrecht said. "We have to beat these teams, not just play them."

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