Oct. 30, 2003
NEWARK, N.J. – Connecticut, the defending NCAA champion, has been chosen to win the 2003-04 BIG EAST Women’s Basketball regular season title. The poll is determined by a vote of the league’s head coaches who were not permitted to place their own teams on their ballots.
The Huskies garnered all possible 13 first-place votes to finish with 169 points in the poll. This marks the 11th consecutive season that UConn has been chosen to win the regular season title, including divisional titles from 1995-96 through ’97-98. The Huskies have won at least a share of the last 10 regular season titles and have been BIG EAST Tournament champions nine of the last 10 years.
The 2002-03 UConn team (37-1, 16-0 BIG EAST) broke the NCAA record for consecutive games won (54) and extended that streak to 70 consecutive victories (Nov. 9, 2001 – March 10, 2003). After losing in the BIG EAST Championship final, the Huskies went on to win six straight for their second straight and fourth overall NCAA title. This year Connecticut will be led by consensus National Player of the Year Diana Taurasi, a senior guard.
Rutgers earned the remaining first-place vote and 156 points for a second-place finish in the poll. Last year, the Scarlet Knights posted a 21-8 record and made a return trip to the NCAA Championship. The record marked the best turnaround in Division I from the 2001-02 season when RU was 9-20. Coach C. Vivian Stringer welcomes back four starters, including junior guard Cappie Pondexter, the 2002-03 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year.
Notre Dame (21-11) earned 139 points to finish third in the poll. The Fighting Irish played in the NCAA Championship for the eighth straight year and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time under coach Muffet McGraw. ND finished 21-11 for its 10th consecutive 20-win season. Junior forward Jacqueline Batteast, a member of the 2003-04 Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team, is expected to lead the Irish.
Virginia Tech is the fourth pick with 124 points. The Hokies advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championship with a 22-10 mark. Senior forward Ieva Kublina is a member of the Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team. Boston College, Miami and Villanova, the defending BIG EAST Tournament champion, round out the top half of the poll. All of the top seven teams in this year’s preseason poll were NCAA Championship participants a year ago.
2003-04 BIG EAST Coaches’ Preseason Poll
Place, Team, (First-Place Votes), Total Points
1. Connecticut (13) 169
2. Rutgers (1) 156
3. NOTRE DAME 139
4. Virginia Tech 124
5. Boston College 120
6. Miami 115
7. Villanova 103
8. West Virginia 80
9. Georgetown 66
10. Seton Hall 65
11. Syracuse 61
12. Pittsburgh 30
13. St. John’s 28
14. Providence 18
Connecticut senior guard Diana Taurasi is the unanimous choice for the 2003-04 BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year by a vote of the league’s head women’s basketball coaches. Notre Dame forward Crystal Erwin and UConn center Liz Sherwood share the Preseason Freshman of the Year honor. Coaches were not permitted to select their own players.
Taurasi, a Chino, Calif. native, was the consensus National Player of the Year after leading the Huskies to their second straight NCAA title last season. The two-time Kodak All-American was the 2003 Final Four and East Regional Most Outstanding Player and won the Honda Award for basketball. Taurasi, the 2002-03 BIG EAST Player of the Year and a two-time All-BIG EAST First Team selection, ranks seventh on UConn’s all-time scoring list with 1,583 points. Last season she ranked in the top 10 among all league players in scoring (3rd, 17.9), field goal percentage (7th, .476), free throw percentage (5th, .815), 3-point field goals made (7th, 1.89), assists (8th, 4.35) and blocks (6th, 1.22).
Taurasi also won a 2003 ESPY Award for Best Female College Athlete. She scored 54 points in the 2003 Final Four for the fourth-highest two-game total in history.
Erwin, a 6-2 forward from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., earned 2003 All-America honors from Parade Magazine and Street & Smith’s. The McDonald’s All-American averaged 22.3 points, 13.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks during her prep career at St. Paul High School in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. Erwin holds school records for career points (2,720), rebounds (1,630) and blocks (380).
Sherwood attended Highlands Ranch (Colo.) High School where she was a teammate of current UConn guard Ann Strother. A 2003 WBCA, Parade and McDonald’s First Team All-American, Sherwood averaged 27.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 8.0 blocks as a senior. The 6-4 center was the 2003 Rocky Mountain News 5A State Player of the Year and a two-time first team all-state and all-conference performer.
In addition to Taurasi, three other members of the ’03-04 Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team earned all-conference first team accolades at the end of last season – Georgetown senior forward Rebekkah Brunson, Virginia Tech senior forward Ieva Kublina and Rutgers junior guard Cappie Pondexter. Brunson was the ’02-03 league rebounding champion, Kublina led the conference in blocks and Pondexter was the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. Rounding out the preseason first team are junior forward Jacqueline Batteast of Notre Dame and Miami sophomore forward Tamara James, both All-BIG EAST Second Team performers a year ago.
2003-04 Preseason Player of the Year:
*Diana Taurasi, Sr., G/F, 6-0, Connecticut (Chino, Calif./Don Lugo HS)
2003-04 Preseason Co-Freshmen of the Year:
Crystal Erwin, Fr., F, 6-2, Notre Dame (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./St. Paul HS)
Liz Sherwood, Fr., C, 6-4, Connecticut (Castle Rock, Colo./Highlands Ranch HS)
Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team
Jacqueline Batteast, Jr., F, 6-2, Notre Dame
*Rebekkah Brunson, Sr., F, 6-3, Georgetown
Tamara James, So., G/F, 5-9, Miami
*Ieva Kublina, Sr., F/C, 6-4, Virginia Tech
*Cappie Pondexter, Jr., G, 5-9, Rutgers
*Diana Taurasi, Sr., G/F, 6-0, Connecticut
Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team
Jessalyn Deveny, Jr., G, 5-9, Boston College
Julie McBride, Sr., G, 5-4, Syracuse
Courtney Mix, Sr., F, 5-10, Villanova
Ann Strother, So., G, 6-2, Connecticut
Barbara Turner, So., F, 6-0, Connecticut
* – indicates unanimous selection
— ND —