Originally created 11/10/99

Lady Bulldogs ranked third in preseason poll



Connecticut again finds itself at the top in women's basketball.

Now comes the hard part for the Huskies: staying there while playing a demanding schedule.

Connecticut held the No. 1 spot Tuesday in The Associated Press preseason poll, finishing ahead of Southeastern Conference powers Tennessee and Georgia in voting by a national media panel.

The Huskies also led the 1995-96 preseason poll, following their national championship year, and have reached No. 1 in three other seasons, including a seven-week run last season.

"We feel it is a tremendous honor for us," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "It's flattering that people want to put us in the number one position. We're just going to enjoy it and keep it in perspective."

Connecticut also led the men's poll, the third time the school has had both its basketball teams at No. 1. It happened last season and also in 1995.

The Connecticut women received 29 of a possible 45 first-place votes and had 1,095 points. Tennessee was second with nine first-place votes and 1,057 points and Georgia third with four first-place votes and 1,015 points.

Connecticut is coming off an injury-ravaged 29-5 season that ended with a loss to Iowa State in the third round of the NCAA tournament. But four starters return and everyone is healthy now except guard Keirsten Walters, who has a lingering knee problem. The Huskies also will get a lift from freshman guard Kennitra Johnson.

They'll need those bodies to deal with a formidable schedule that includes eight teams in the preseason Top 25. They play Tennessee and Rutgers twice each and also have games with UCLA, Louisiana Tech, Penn State, Illinois, Boston College and Notre Dame -- and possibly Old Dominion in a tournament.

But expectations are high among the Huskies' adoring fans. Gampel Pavilion is sold out for the season and all but one the team's 28 games will be televised.

"It's all part of doing business at UConn," Auriemma said. "If you're not picked preseason No. 1, something is wrong. People don't think you have a good team."

Tennessee must do without player of the year Chamique Holdsclaw and point guard Kellie Jolly, who helped the Lady Vols win three of the last four national titles. But they still have Tamika Catchings, Semeka Randall and Kristen Clement from coach Pat Summitt's outstanding recruiting class three years ago.

Georgia returns twins Kelly and Coco Miller and two other starters from a 27-7 team that reached the Final Four.

No. 4 Rutgers received one first-place vote and fifth-ranked UCLA had two. Louisiana Tech was sixth and Iowa State seventh, followed by Notre Dame, North Carolina and Penn State.

Iowa State's ranking is the highest ever for the Cyclones, who return everyone from a team that reached the Mideast Regional finals. Rutgers has not been ranked as high as fourth since Feb. 23, 1987, and UCLA is at its highest point since it was fifth the week of Feb. 17, 1981.

Auburn, which returns all five starters from a 20-9 team, was 11th and Illinois 12th. Then it was LSU, UC Santa Barbara and Old Dominion, followed by Oregon, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Boston College and North Carolina State.

Duke, Texas Tech, defending champion Purdue, Nebraska and Arizona held the final five spots.

The No. 23 ranking is the lowest for a defending NCAA champion in the preseason poll. Purdue had a major loss with the graduation of guards Stephanie White-McCarty and Ukari Figgs.

The season will start with an early Top Ten game between Tennessee and Louisiana Tech in the Tip-Off Classic at Knoxville on Sunday. Rutgers plays North Carolina State in the other game.