For tournament, let the chips fall

More than ever, outcome is impossible to predict

ACC women

March 03, 2000|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Whenever two or three or nine coaches gather before a conference tournament, the talk centers on how, when the smoke clears, any one of them might have the honor of cutting down the nets.

And usually it sounds like so much folderol, except that this year, the Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball coaches appear to be serious about it.

"I know you've heard it from us before," said Clemson coach Jim Davis earlier this week, "but this year, more than any year, this thing could be won by any team. It's going to be the most competitive ACC tournament since I've been here over the last 13 years."

There is no dominant team as play opens today at Greensboro Coliseum for the first of a three-year stint.

Virginia (22-7), ranked 16th in the current Associated Press poll, comes into the tournament as the top seed, having won its record 11th regular-season championship.

Yet, the Cavaliers, 13-3 in conference play, lost in the final week of the regular season to seventh-seeded Maryland, and beat ninth-seeded Wake Forest by six in the regular-season finale Sunday in Charlottesville, Va.

Meanwhile, injuries have slowed the second and third seeds, Duke (23-5, 12-4) and North Carolina State (20-7, 11-5).

The 12th-ranked Blue Devils have stumbled badly since losing forward Peppi Browne to a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in a knee in late January.

The Wolfpack hopes to get center Summer Erb back from a fractured foot by the beginning of the NCAA tournament in two weeks, but that might not be soon enough to keep it from plunging out as one of the top 16 seeds, which ensures home-court advantage in the first two rounds.

The team that everyone seems to be glancing over their shoulders at this weekend is North Carolina, the preseason favorite, which tumbled to 16-11 overall and 8-8 in the ACC.

The fifth-seeded Tar Heels lost five straight in January, when point guard Nikki Teasley (St. John's at Prospect Hall) left the lineup to take a leave of absence for reasons that have not been disclosed. Since her return last month, North Carolina has won six of eight, including beating Virginia and then Duke in the regular-season closer.

The Tar Heels, who have appeared in the past three ACC tournament finals, winning two, probably need to get there this year to cement an NCAA bid, considering that their rating percentage index currently stands at 49.

Only one ACC team, Georgia Tech in 1993, has received an at-large bid with 16 overall wins and a .500 league mark. While North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell believes her team should be in the NCAA field of 64, no matter what happens this weekend, she has stressed the urgency of the moment.

"They know what the situation is," Hatchell said. "I told them before the Duke game that if they wanted to get into the NCAA tournament, they had to win. You can't be afraid of pressure. You have to want it and go after it."

ACC women

When: Today-Monday

Where: Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum

TV: HTS; quarterfinal, 1 p.m. tomorrow; semifinals, 1 p.m. and 3: 15 p.m. Sunday; championship game, 7: 30 p.m., Monday.

Radio: Maryland games on WMUC (650 AM)

Defending champion: Clemson

Favorite: Take your pick. Both top-seeded Virginia and second-seeded Duke lost in the final week of the regular season, though the Cavaliers have won five of their past six. Virginia has three tournament titles, but none since 1994. Duke has never won the ACC tournament.

Dark horse: North Carolina. Not only have the Tar Heels won four of the past six tournaments, but, as the fifth seed, almost certainly need at least one win to cement an NCAA tournament bid. The Tar Heels have wins in five of their past six games, including over Virginia and Duke.

MVP candidate: Nikki Teasley. Since returning from a leave of absence, the 6-foot junior point guard (St. Johns at Prospect Hall) has pulled the Tar Heels back into NCAA contention. She averaged 18.5 points and 7.5 assists in North Carolina's wins over Florida State and Duke last week and was named ACC Player of the Week. -- Milton Kent

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