Close contest expected in women's college basketball title chase

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The women's college basketball season is underway and it's no surprise that Southern California and Louisiana Tech, ranked first and second, respectively, are drawing most of the rave notices.

But while these two powerhouses have looked impressive, a number of dark horses could upset the rankings, in this, the second year of National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball competition for women.

The 1982-83 campaign marks the start of complete NCAA governance in women's college athletics. Last year, a handful of teams chose to stay with the lesser known Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. Since the AIAW is out of operation now, teams which had not made the switch to the NCAA last year have joined up to strengthen the field.

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Many coaches view NCAA participation positively, for the added exposure which the NCAA brings (including more television coverage) will be an important step in gaining support for the women's game.

Already the game is developing at a faster pace than before, as seen by the formation of new women's athletic conferences throughout the country. Some coincide with men's conferences, such as the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences. Others are separate from the men's and may require more time to become widely recognized. At this point, the champions of 13 conferences will receive automatic berths in the 1983 NCAA Division I tournament, to be held in Norfolk, Virginia next April.

Last season no team was as dominant as Louisiana Tech, whose Lady Techsters are seeking a third straight title. Over a two-year span, they piled up an impressive 69-1 record, a mark that will be hard to match due to the rising number of strong teams throughout the country.

Louisiana Tech has lost starters Pam Kelly and Angela Turner to graduation, but the team's depth should keep it in contention all year. Leadership is provided by juniors Kim Mulkey, a 5 ft. 4 in. guard, and 6 ft. 3 in. center Janice Lawrence.

In the season's biggest game to date, Louisiana Tech lost to Southern Cal 64- 58.

The Lady Trojans, with a record of 23-4 last season, have the potential to be one of the strongest women's college basketball teams ever. The additon of Cheryl Miller, the nation's top freshman, just about assures the already-potent USC attack of a spectacular season. Miller averaged 37.1 points a game at Riverside (Calif.) Poly High School, scored an incredible 105 in one contest, and was recruited by some 250 schools. She joins a front court that has Pam and Paula McGee, 6 ft. 3 in. twin sisters who combined for nearly 40 points a game last year.

The chase for the title doesn't end with those two schools, however. Maryland, Old Dominion, and Kentucky round out the top five teams in the nation at this date, and all have the ability to move up even higher in the rankings if one of the top teams falters.

Old Dominion, the two-time national champion (1979 and 1980) and possibly the strongest threat to USC and Louisiana Tech, is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing No. 7 ranking a year ago. With exciting Medina Dixon, a transfer from South Carolina, helping out 6 ft. 8 in. All-America center Anne Donovan, the Lady Monarchs could improve on last year's 22-6 record.

Donovan led the nation in rebounding a year ago with a 14.7 average and placed third in field-goal accuracy by making 64 percent of her shots.

A team which many expected to go far this year is Tennessee. The Lady Volunteers are coming off a fourth consecutive appearance in the tournament semifinals. Given the team's experience and that of coach Pat Head Summitt (the 1984 Olympic coach), a strong run at the elusive national title is expected, inspite of a slow start.

Among other leading contenders are Texas, Long Beach State, Kansas State, and Cheyney State.

Two of those teams were runners-up in their respective finals last year, Cheyney State in the NCAA final game, and Texas, in the AIAW championship. Lower-ranked teams that pack a lot of upset potential are Georgia and Arizona.

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