NCAA champions await 17-3 women

By Carl Ackerman

What the NIU women’s basketball team encounters on the road tonight at 6:30 could be labeled as its most important and most challenging battle of the season.

Not only will the Huskies be facing the nation’s No. 5 team, but the opponents are last year’s defending NCAA champions.

It’s none other than the University of Tennessee (16-4), former home of NIU coach Jane Albright for two seasons. Albright served as a graduate assistant under present UT coach Pat Summitt from 1981-83.

“She’s the best there is,” said Albright of her former boss. During her 15-year plus tenure at UT, Summitt has compiled a 401-111 record.

The feelings toward one another seem to be mutual.

“I’m really happy for Jane,” said Summitt. “I’m not at all surprised with what she’s done. She’s a strong person. She has good work ethics and is a very persistent coach.”

Albright will have to enforce those persistent work ethics to get by the Lady Volunteers, who are led in scoring by Daedra Charles, 15.6 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game. She is followed by Dena Head’s 10.8 ppg and Tonya Edwards’ 10.6 ppg. UT, however, is known for its defensive power—which will clash against NIU’s No.1 offense.

“They are definitely a Top-20 team,” said Summitt. “I think (NIU) is much better offensively. Tennessee will have its hands full. (NIU) can score a lot more points than we can. We’ve struggled at times offensively this year.”

Although the odds are against the Huskies, Albright and her team appear ready and confident for the challenge.

“I expect the defending national champs to play like they don’t know who we are. They could be overlooking us, and we could go down there and show them what we’re about. We’re going to be the best we can be, and if that’s not good enough then that’s not good enough,” said Albright.

NIU’s junior guard Denise Dove reflects Albright’s positive attitude about the Huskies.

“I don’t think we’ll be intimidated; instead it’s a big challenge. A lot of people think we’re going to lose, but we believe in ourselves. As long as we execute and play tough defense, we will win,” said Dove.

NIU’s all-time leading scorer Carol Owens shares her teammates thoughts and explains that the pressure is on UT.

“We’ll go down there and do the best we can. They’re afraid of us, not us afraid of them,” said Owens.

Senior forward Tammy Hinchee needs just 10 more rebounds to break NIU’s all-time record of 1,003 held by Lisa Starosta (1980-85).

The last time the two teams met was in 1987. UT walked away with a 103-76 win and some of the NIU players remember that, including senior forward Kris Weis.

“We played there my freshman year, and I know what it’s like. We’re going to have to play great defense and hopefully some of our new offensive plans will work,” said Weis.

Both teams are coming off strong wins. NIU prevailed over Wisconsin-Green Bay’s No.4 ranked scoring defense 84-60 last Saturday. UT pulled out a 76-65 victory over 14th-ranked Auburn, last year’s runner-up to the NCAA champions.

The game will be broadcast live on WKDI-FM 93.5 in DeKalb at 6:15. The station is available to DeKalb-area Warner Cable subscribers through an FM stereo link.