tampabay.com

National powers to open year in Tampa

The elite programs won't just be finishing next season at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. They'll be opening the season there as well.

By GREG AUMAN
Published April 1, 2007


CLEVELAND - The elite programs won't just be finishing next season at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. They'll be opening the season there as well.

Host USF gets a shot at Duke, and national powers Tennessee and Oklahoma are scheduled to meet in the ESPNU Women's College Basketball Invitational, a doubleheader Nov. 15 and a potential preview of some Final Four competition next April.

"To be able to host these four elite level basketball programs in this setting speaks volumes to the strength of our sports community," said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. "We thought it would be a unique concept to be able to put a doubleheader on the same floor where the national champion will eventually be crowned. ... It's an opportunity for us to provide a legacy for the tournament, something that hasn't been done before."

Duke went 29-0 in the regular season and entered the postseason ranked No. 1, and Tennessee's Candace Parker and Oklahoma's Courtney Paris, both first-team Kodak All-Americans, will be among the nation's top players next season.

Tickets are expected to go on sale in July.

UNPARALLELED PARKER: Parker was given the Wade Trophy as national player of the year, the first sophomore honored in the award's 30-year history.

"It's a tremendous honor and I wouldn't be here without my coaches and my teammates," she said. "But that's all put aside now because we have a goal that we came here to the Final Four to accomplish."

The forward was among 10 players named to the Kodak/Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-America team, as were two others in the Final Four, North Carolina guard Ivory Latta and LSU center Sylvia Fowles.

THIS AND THAT: USF senior Jessica Dickson, in town for the WNBA's predraft camp, learned Saturday she has been invited back to Cleveland for Wednesday's draft, where she could be a late first-round pick. ... Ex-Florida coach Carolyn Peck will provide color analysis for ESPN2's alternative-commentary broadcast of Tuesday's championship game. A separate crew is calling the game for ESPN's broadcast.