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College basketball

Women: Baylor turmoil leaves women undaunted

By Associated Press
Published March 27, 2004

The Baylor Bears sat down once before the season to discuss the tragedy and scandal surrounding the school's other basketball team.

When coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson was sure her players were okay, she challenged them.

"We separated ourselves from all of that, and I challenged the team to be the shining light of the athletic department this winter," Mulkey-Robertson said. "We never discussed it again; it didn't pertain to us. It affected our school but not our program and what we set out to do."

The Bears (26-8) went on to their fourth straight 20-win season and didn't stop there. They are in the round of 16 for the first time and play top-seeded Tennessee on Sunday night in Norman, Okla. in the Midwest Region.

Like the rest of the Baylor community, the Bears were hurt and shocked over the shooting death last summer of Patrick Dennehy and the results of the ensuing investigation.

A former teammate of Dennehy's was charged with murder. There also were revelations of serious NCAA violations that forced the resignation of coach Dave Bliss.

"Our hearts hurt, but we needed to step forward for ourselves and focus on what we had to do," senior Jessika Stratton said. "We're excited that something positive is going on. It's good timing."

After a 91-76 win over Florida in a second-round NCAA game Monday, Mulkey-Robertson said the team's success was "good medicine" for the school. At least eight busloads of fans will make the five-hour trip from Waco to Norman on Sunday.

"There is no question morale has improved dramatically over the last several months," athletic director Ian McCaw said. "There is a real sense of momentum around Baylor athletics."

THE TIE THAT BINDS: Little Saint Joseph's is casting a big shadow over the men's and women's tournaments.

Coach Phil Martelli has the top-seeded Hawks headed to the men's East Rutherford Region final today. On the women's side, the East Region features three coaches - Geno Auriemma, Rene Portland and Muffet McGraw - who trace their basketball roots to the Philadelphia school.

"It's pretty exciting to see what's happening on Hawk Hill," said Portland, who leads top-seeded Penn State against Notre Dame and McGraw today.

Portland's first head coaching job came with the Hawks in 1976, a team that featured McGraw at point guard.

"(Friday) morning we were trying to figure out the chronological order of when we were all at St. Joe's," said Portland, who took over the Hawks a year after graduating from Immaculata.

"Muffet was a senior, which only makes me two years older than her. She's not as young as she thought she was," Portland said. "Then we tried to figure out where Geno snuck in there."

Auriemma, coach of second-seeded Connecticut, was an assistant in 1979 and later coached boys basketball at a local high school with Martelli.

THE BIG TIME: The opponent is Connecticut, the crowd will be large and hostile and the game will be the most significant the team has played.

UC Santa Barbara, the little-known team from the idyllic campus by the Pacific, has hit the big time.

Unranked and seeded 11th, the Gauchos play second-seeded Connecticut in the East Region semifinals today at the 16,294-seat Hartford Civic Center, UConn's second home.

It's certainly not the Thunderdome, the cozy arena where UCSB beat sixth-seeded Colorado and third-seeded Houston to reach the round of 16 for the first time.

But if anything, that has added to the Gauchos' enthusiasm.

"We're euphoric to be here," coach Mark French said. "When you talk about our plane flight out here, I think we could've made it without our plane, probably just on our own energy and excitement."

A CALL AWAY: Sue Gunter does most of her coaching over the phone these days. No problem for LSU, though, because top assistant Dana "Pokey" Chatman is on the other end.

Chatman has been acting coach for much of the past two months, ever since Gunter, in her 40th season as coach, was slowed and eventually forced to step aside because of acute bronchitis.

The players hardly noticed a difference.

"There's really been no change for us," Temeka Johnson said. "Coach Gunter and the rest of the coaching staff have been with each other for the longest time. They all think alike."

The fourth-seeded Tigers are in the West Region semifinals and meet No.1 Texas today.

Though Gunter isn't in the building, it doesn't mean the silver-haired Hall of Fame member is taking it easy.

She attends practices and film sessions, and she hasn't been reluctant to pick up the phone to call Chatman, even while watching a game in her living room.

"If she's watching a game from home on TV, she might see something from a different perspective," Chatman said. "And the closer to game day, the more the phone's going to ring."

[Last modified March 27, 2004, 02:10:29]

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