By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001
The last thing Duke coach Gail Goestenkors wanted was to start two freshmen.
Now she's wishing she still had the opportunity.
Until Monday, Duke's starting lineup consisted of two of the best freshmen in the ACC: Iciss Tillis and Alana Beard.
But for at least the next three to four weeks, the fourth-ranked Blue Devils will be without Beard, who had surgery this week to repair a thumb she dislocated Jan. 18 against North Carolina State.
Beard is the phenomenal freshman guard/forward who started Duke's first 18 games, leading the Blue Devils with 16.8 points per game and 3.56 steals. She is second on the team with 18 blocks and her 3.56 assists top the ACC and are 12th nationally.
"I normally don't like to (start freshmen) just because I feel like they need to earn their way," Goestenkors said. "When they start as freshmen, they get comfortable and complacent. I prefer to go with older players who have worked hard and earned that right. But in this instance, they have more than proved themselves. They've gotten in shape, practiced hard. Freshmen usually have to spend a lot of time getting adjusted to the college game, but they have done remarkably well."
With Beard out, Duke's starting lineup still includes Tillis, a 6-foot-4 forward averaging 9.4 points and 5.7 rebounds. She posted her second double double of the season Monday in a win against Virginia.
"We thought that Elena probably would start for us, but I didn't think Iciss would start until late in the season," Goestenkors said. "She has proven herself to be a starter. The scoring has been a surprise to me. Iciss is really starting to come into her own."
HOLDING ON: Heading into Friday night's home game against UAB, South Florida's struggles continued. The Bulls were on a six-game losing streak, had won three games and hadn't won a Conference USA game. Also, three players quit the team in the past month.
Although first-year coach Jose Fernandez said the team's morale remains high, he admitted recently he has seen the disappointing results take a toll on his players.
Fernandez said the Bulls are battling fatigue and lack of players -- with nine in games, 12 in practice. South Florida has 10 games remaining before the Conference USA tournament, including a game Sunday against Memphis.
While Fernandez envisions his team pulling things together and making a comeback, he realizes everything starts with a simple step: a win.
"Right now, we need a win," he said. "Not only to boost the team morale but to give the girls a sense of belief that we can win in this league. Then maybe we get something going. We're hoping to win some games here and go into the conference tournament, make some noise and get on a run. But it's tough when you're (3-14) and haven't won a conference game. But I'm not willing to give up on this season."
GIVE US CREDIT: Even though the Big 12 has five teams in the Top 25, coaches have been claiming they are overlooked in favor of other premier conferences like the SEC and the ACC.
That's why Sunday's Big 12/ACC Challenge results were so satisfying. Iowa State defeated North Carolina State and Oklahoma knocked off North Carolina.
The wins improved the Big 12's nation-leading winning percentage against non-conference opponents to .804 (111-27). Of course, Big 12 teams also are knocking each other off. Wednesday night, unranked Baylor upset No. 7 Iowa State 79-74.
1 -- Win Texas A&M has against ranked opponents since 1996. It defeated then-No. 25 Baylor 87-81 last week.
2 -- Dunks this season for Tennessee junior Michelle Snow.
3 -- UF players to tear an ACL this season.
5 -- Twenty-plus-point performances Notre Dame All-America center Ruth Riley has in the past six games, including 28 against West Virginia on Wednesday night.
10 -- Consecutive wins Purdue has this season.
43 -- Current winning streak of Louisiana Tech in the Sun Belt Conference.
While Notre Dame boasts one of the country's most potent offensive attacks the past few seasons, its defense remains on pace to break modern school records for fewest points allowed per game and lowest opponent field-goal and three-point field-goal percentages. The defense has limited opponents to 54.5 points on 33.5 FG percentage and 25.4 three-point percentage, better than the records of 55.1 points per game in 1981-82, 35.5 FG percentage in 1999-2000 and 28.4 three-point percentage in 1996-97. Only three opponents have shot better than 40 percent against the Irish: Georgia (42.0), Purdue (46.2) and Virginia Tech in the first meeting (41.0).
About 30 former Gators will be in Gainesville to participate in the Gator Basketball Alumnae Reunion Weekend. Many former players will be at the Florida men's game against South Carolina this afternoon. The former players then will take the court at 6:15 p.m. Admission for the alumnae game is free. Sunday, the alumnae will be introduced at halftime of the women's 2 p.m. game against South Carolina at the O'Connell Center.
Former players expected to attend are DeLisha Milton, Murriel Page and Tonya Washington -- all current WNBA players -- Beth Ingham Smith, Sharlene Byrd Childs, Erin O'Neil, Candace Cunningham, Talatha Bingham, Kelly Freeman, Charmaine Milton, Chanda Stebbins, Queintella Bonner, Delmae Darling, Montez Wynn, Roonie Scovel, Jill Davis Huesman, Bea Jacobs, Terri Hartmann-Baun, Pam Giblin, Peggy Brookins, Carolyn Jordan, Kellye Mowchan, Paula Welch, Emma Gracey, Mahogany Hudson and Tammy Jackson, formerly of the WNBA's Houston Comets.
"Hopefully more people will realize that we're a good program. We haven't had the tradition like Connecticut and Tennessee have, but I think (the No. 1 ranking) proves we're building one of our own. ... It's a good statement about how far our program has come in the last couple of years." -- Notre Dame's Ruth Riley on the Irish being ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history.
SUNDAY: No. 3 Tennessee at Old Dominion, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2: ODU sits atop the Colonial Division as the only undefeated team.
THURSDAY: No. 2 Connecticut at No. 3 Tennessee, 7 p.m., ESPN: What else needs to be said? Since their last meeting, the Vols have lost arguably the best player in the nation to a knee injury and UConn was knocked out of the No. 1 slot for the first time in 32 weeks. -- Compiled by ANTONYA ENGLISH.