Geno Auriemma has a very simple way of explaining the difference between Connecticut and its challengers in women’s basketball: “We have Diana and they don’t,” the coach says.
At Duke, coach Gail Goestenkors says without hesitation: “I think Alana raises the level of play of our entire team every single day.”
Of course, they are talking about Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard, for whom being designated an All-American is becoming as commonplace as high-top sneakers.
The two seniors were unanimous selections Tuesday for The Associated Press’ preseason All-America team.
Their names appeared on all 47 ballots from the national media panel voting in the weekly AP poll. Also chosen were Kansas State’s Nicole Ohlde (34 votes), Penn State’s Kelly Mazzante (28) and Stanford’s Nicole Powell (25).
Beard, a 5-foot-11 guard, made the preseason team for the third time, Taurasi, a 6-foot guard, for the second. Beard also was unanimous a year ago, and both were unanimous postseason All-Americans last spring.
Taurasi was the AP’s player of the year last season and led a Connecticut team that relied heavily on freshmen to its second consecutive national championship.
“If we win another national championship this year, Diana Taurasi’s arguably the greatest college player of all time,” Auriemma said.
During last year’s NCAA tournament, she always seemed to come through when it counted with what the Huskies needed most: a 3-pointer, a pass threaded through the defense to an open teammate or a steal.
Taurasi averaged 17.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists last season. But during the tournament, she really turned up the heat, raising her scoring average to 26.2. She finished with 26 points against Texas in the semifinals and 28 against Tennessee in the title game.
“It’s nice to be considered among the top players in the country,” Taurasi said. “But nothing counts until the season is over.”
Right now, she says, “I’m psyched. You don’t get another senior year.”
Beard joined Tennessee’s Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings as the only three-time selections on the preseason team, which began in 1994.
The smooth left-hander can break down opponents with her fierce defense as well as her shooting and passing. She led Duke to its second straight Final Four appearance last season, averaging 22 points and 6.9 rebounds and shooting 52.7 percent.
Goestenkors wants Beard to improve in only one area: be more of a vocal leader.
“I think that’s important for us,” Goestenkors said. “Sometimes last year she held her tongue a little bit with some of her teammates. She never wants to hurt anybody’s feelings.”
Beard hopes she and the other seniors can help the Blue Devils reach a goal that has eluded them: the national championship.
“We know what it takes to get there and we know how much it hurts not making our goal the past two seasons,” she said. “We will do everything needed not to feel that way to close out our careers.”
Ohlde, a 6-foot-5 senior, has become a dominant post player during Kansas State’s rise to national prominence and was a first-team All-American last season. She averaged 18.4 points and nine rebounds in helping the Wildcats win a school-record 29 games.
“I am really looking forward to the season and seeing what we can accomplish as a team,” Ohlde said. “There are a lot of great players out there, so I definitely feel very honored to be named to the team.”
Mazzante, a 6-foot senior, was fifth nationally in scoring last season at 23.9 points a game. With 2,238 points, she’s on track to become the Big Ten’s career leader. Ohio State’s Katie Smith leads now with 2,578 points.
Powell, a 6-2 senior, was a preseason All-American a year ago, then missed the first nine games because of back problems. But she returned to form quickly and averaged 18.8 points and 9.3 rebounds in leading Stanford to the Pac-10 championship.
“Our team has been working really hard at practice,” Powell said. “I think that with the efforts that we have already made, it’s the right time for this year to be something special.”
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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