Tech hopes to make K.C. its second home

By Mechelle Voepel
ESPNET SportsZone


MARCH 5, 1998

Greetings from Kansas City, the place a certain bunch of Texans would like to consider Lubbock North this month.

Top-seeded Texas Tech opened the Big 12 tournament Wednesday with an impressive 80-49 victory over Colorado in KC's Municipal Coliseum, sight of many men's Final Fours of the past.

  Alicia Thompson
Texas Tech's Alicia Thompson leaps over Colorado's Alexis Felts.

Of course, the women's Final Four will be in town in three weeks, just down the road at Kemper Arena.

"We'd like to stay around here as long as possible,'' Tech's Crystal Boles said, "so it feels like a second home. Last year, we were here less than 24 hours. We took the first flight home.''

That was after a quarterfinal loss to Kansas State in the inaugural Big 12 tournament.

"I think that's something we've thought about probably all year,'' Tech coach Marsha Sharp said. "We were ready to play.''

Meanwhile, the defending Big 12 tourney champion, Colorado, saw its season end. For the first time since 1991, the Buffaloes won't be going to the NCAA tourament. But coach Ceal Barry wasn't down afterward.

"It hasn't been nearly as frustrating a season as everybody thinks it should be,'' she said.

"We had three or four freshmen who not only got some experience but really developed to the point where we think they'll help us next year. That, along with the leadership of our older players, made the losing more palatible.

"There was no finger-pointing, no negativism, and they made progress from opening day to last.''

Sales stuff

Now we've read or heard just about every media member's opinion on the Nykesha Sales incident, and I've come up with a thought-provoking, carefully-worded response for some of them.

Go jump in a lake.

A little harsh? Oh, sorry, that's just me getting emotional again. As expected. I mean, everyone's aware, as Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said, that women just break down all the time.

But, anyhow, if I can somehow compose myself, I'll continue.

A lot of pompous clowns weighed in on the Sales situation from their lofty positions as keepers of sports integrity.

Well, they didn't literally weigh in. As much time as most of these folks spend scarfing the free food in media rooms and guzzling beer after games, many don't really want to go near scales.

But Sales? Oh, they were all over that. Not that before "Geno's Gift'' most of them could have picked Sales out of a lineup consisting of two people.

(Jeez, am I being mean or what? And it's not even that time of the month. You know, that time when women get EVEN MORE emotional? It's also when we could get infections if we were fighting in trench warfare. Remember when Newt Gringrich explained all that? Perhaps he and Mike Tranghese shared biology notes in school.)

But anyway, the "plot'' to allow Sales to score two points and become Connecticut's all-time leading scorer was, according to some of my fellow media members, "vile,'' "a farce,'' "a black eye,'' and "a pie in the face of women's basketball.''

Some decided this one moment made them question the credibility of women's hoops and how now they're not sure they can take it seriously.

Wow, someone should have clued me in that they had been taking it seriously before Sales' basket. How did I miss that?

Good to have so many writers and radio show hosts interested in women's hoops. See all of you at Kemper Arena soon.

Big East

Connecticut got past the Sales thing to defeat Rutgers and win the Big East title. Looks like that secures a No. 1 seed for the Huskies regardless of not having Sales.

At least that's what you would infer from the Tuesday teleconference featuring Jean Lenti Ponsetto, chair of the selection committee. That's an exercise where, basically, everyone asks Ponsetto, "What do you think of (fill-in-the blank's) chances?'' and she says, "Well, I'd say there was a possibility of that happening. But there's also the possibility of it not happening.''

And then everybody writes, "Ponsetto said it might happen. But it also might not happen.''

Pac-10 The no-tournament Pac-10 ends the regular season with games Thursday and Saturday. A couple of intriguing matchups: Thursday, Stanford travels to Oregon and Saturday, UCLA is at Arizona. Will the Pac-10 get five teams in the NCAA field. I believe the correct answer is: it might and it might not.

Last Saturday's senior day at Stanford didn't provide the definitive answer on whether Kristin Folkl or Naomi Mulitauaopele will be back at Stanford next year. It did provide a glimpse, at the end of the Cardinal's 108-90 victory over Arizona, of Stanford's 1998-99 team if neither does come back.

Needless to say, Cardinal fans are sure hoping at least one of them sticks around. And it would seem Mulitauaopele would have the most compelling reason, as far as what it could do for her stature in the pro draft.

Folkl's stature is already sky-high. She unquestionably should be a first-team All-America pick when the media votes at the end of this week. The games she missed are irrelevant. Consider that Kansas men's star Raef LaFrentz has missed more games this season than Folkl has. LaFrentz is a lock as a first-teamer, and Folkl should be, too.

But Mulitauopele has been injured all season. One more year in college -- and if she alone returns and is healthy, she ought to be the Cardinal's centerpiece player -- could do her a lot of good.

Incidentally, more on a bird's-eye view of senior day at Maples Pavilion is forthcoming.

Heels again

North Carolina took a more roller-coaster route to the ACC tournament championship than it took last season, although some things about both years were a lot like -- a close win over Duke in the semifinals and then a victory over Clemson in the final.

North Carolina's Tracy Reid tipped the ball away from Duke's Peppi Browne at the end of Saturday's semifinal game, with Duke trailing by one. If you heard about the play but didn't actually see it, Browne's arm flew backward along with the rest of her body.

It would have been Reid's fifth foul, but instead it gave Carolina the ball, and the Tar Heels sealed the game with free throws.

Nothing against Carolina, understand. But in an unscientific poll of people who happened to be in the Kansas City Star's sports department and were shown the play on videotape, the vote was unanimous: It was a foul on Reid. (To protect the integrity of this poll, we did toss out the vote of our staff's Duke graduate.)

But that play is not what won lost Duke the game, which the Blue Devils knew. Coach Gail Goestenkors was actually a lot more concerned about her post players' inexplicably bad shooting. Payton Black, Lauren Rice and Michele VanGorp went a combined 1-of-15 from the field vs. UNC.

Meanwhile, Clemson coach Jim Davis didn't seem too thrilled with UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell's decision to play her starters almost until the end of the title game.

Hatchell can be quite oblivious -- or at least appear to be -- about these kind of things. So if Davis was indeed ticked off -- "She was queen today, so I bowed to the queen'' -- he's aware that with Hatchell, that's kind of a waste of time.

What Hatchell cares about is getting the Heels in peak-performance mode now. There is a ton of talent at UNC, but how far it goes depends on whether the Heels can play as a team.

More ACC

Despite North Carolina State's upset loss to Maryland in the ACC quarterfinals, it seems pretty certain that the Wolfpack will host in the NCAA's first two rounds.

It will join neighbors UNC and Duke, so let's hope the Triangle folks have some appreciation for what their women's teams have accomplished.

Meanwhile, Virginia doesn't seem likely to get a subregional. The Cavs haven't had their NCAA opener on the road since 1985.

Big Ten

Lots of drama from this tournament, which is no surprise. Now it's a matter of seeing how it all shakes out for bids.

By the way, Ponsetto said most people think the conference tournaments carry more weight in seeding than they actually do. Which is interesting, since it's not hard to think of a few times recently when it certainly seemed like the league tourney results was a big influencing factor.

SEC stuff

Way back at SEC media day in November, Alabama coach Rick Moody was asked if the aura surrounding Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw was part of the reason the Tides' Dominique Canty didn't get as much national attention.

Moody didn't exactly want to answer that, but he certainly indicated -- thought it took a long time -- that might be a possibility.

At any rate, there doesn't seem to be much question right now which team matches up best with Tennessee -- Alabama. The Tide lost to Tennessee by seven earlier this season and by four in the SEC title game this past Sunday.

So how did Alabama lose to Vanderbilt on Feb. 22 -- the same Vandy team that lost to Tennessee by about 4,000 points in the SEC semis?

Well, part of it as much as we tend to think of Vanderbilt-Tennessee as a big rivalry game, the results don't support that. Tennessee is 29-4 vs. Vandy.

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star writes a regular women's basketball column for ESPNET SportsZone. Her e-mail address is