If You Don't Know, Now You Know

By Jeff Lippman - March 22, 2008

There are 16 games on the first day of NCAA Tournament action. One of the best things about the women's NCAA Tournament is that teams who never get much publicity get to stand out in the spotlight for at least one game.

This country is full of excellent women's talent that most people have never heard of. Shoot, some of the best players on the best teams in the country slip the minds of even the most knowledgeable sports fan.

I couldn't believe my ears when my good friend and big-time sports enthusiast - he's a Buffalo Bills fan, though - asked me, "Who's this Candace Parker?"

So with 16 games today, I will highlight a player the country should be aware of in each.

UT-San Antonio (15) vs. Texas A&M (2) - Baton Rouge, La. - Noon
Morenike Atunrase, senior forward, Texas A&M

Atunrase is the sixth woman for A&M. All of the scouting reports will tell the Roadrunners to concentrate on stopping A&M's A'quonesia Franklin, Takia Starks or Danielle Gant, but Atunrase averaged just under 10 points per game this season and is playing her best basketball right now. The senior will do all she can to lead her team to Tampa.

Hartford (10) vs. Syracuse (7) - Baton Rouge, La. - 2 p.m.
Erica Morrow, freshman guard, Syracuse

As just a freshman, Morrow averaged 14 points, 5 boards, 4 assists and 2 steals and over 2 3-pointers per game. She has the ability to take over for the Orange and, like Atunrase, is playing her best basketball of the season when it counts most.

Georgia Tech (10) vs. Iowa State (7) - Des Moines, Iowa - noon
Alison Lacey, sophomore guard, Iowa State

The sophomore had a sensation season for the Cyclones and should continue that in the NCAA Tournament. As a three-point specialist, look for it to be bombs away against the Yellow Jackets. She also averaged over 4 assists per game to go with over 14 points.

Auburn (11) vs. George Washington (6) - Stanford, Calif. - 2 p.m.
DeWanna Bonner, junior guard/forward, Auburn

It's amazing to me how Bonner isn't mentioned in the same sentences with Candace Parker and Angel McCoughtry. Bonner is a 6-foot-4 guard with forward size. She averaged a double-double this season with 18 points and 10 boards en route to being named First Team All-SEC. She will be the best all-around player on the court in Stanford when these two meet.

Robert Morris (15) vs. Rutgers (2) - Des Moines, Iowa - 2 p.m.
Sade Logan, junior guard, Robert Morris

The Scarlet Knights are winning this game, but it won't be because Logan didn't score. The six-footer from Knoxville, Tenn., averaged over 25 points per game this season and hits about 4 3-pointers a game. How did Pat Summitt let her out of town?

San Diego (14) vs. Cal (3) - Stanford, Calif. - 4 p.m.
Amanda Rego, senior point guard, San Diego

She isn't her team's leading scorer, but at 10 points per game she definitely causes the most points. Rego was recently compared to former Knicks and Pacers point guard Mark Jackson by Graham Hays of ESPN.com, and at 8.5 assists per game, she's second in the nation in dimes. Plus, in her senior season, she's not going to want to go home yet.

Fresno State (14) vs. Baylor (3) - Albuquerque, N.M. - 2 p.m.
Angela Tisdale, senior guard, Baylor

There are no standout performers on either team, in my opinion, but Tisdale would be the closest thing to it. The senior will have a sense of urgency and will try to impose the 16 points per game she averaged during the regular season on the Bulldogs of Fresno State.

Wyoming (11) vs. Pitt (6) - Albuquerque, N.M. - 4 p.m.
Hanna Zavecz, senior forward, Wyoming

A very complete player, Zavecz leads her team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks. Yeah, that's pretty much every statistical category. She hits a three every now and again, too. Sometimes she even coaches the team. Wait, no, that's not true.

New Mexico (12) vs. West Virginia (5) - Albuquerque, N.M. - 8:30 p.m.
Olayinka Sanni, senior center, West Virginia

We've talked a little about the Lady Mountaineers' Meg Bulger being the sister of NFL quarterback Mark Bulger, but Sanni is this team's leading scorer. At almost 17 a game to go with 7 rebounds, Sanni is a force inside.

Cleveland State (15) vs. Stanford (2) - Stanford, Calif. - 8:30 p.m.
Kailey Klein, sophomore guard, Cleveland State

This game belongs to Candice Wiggins, but if Cleveland State scores, it will most likely be Klein. Just a sophomore, Klein averaged 20 points per game for the Vikings this season and has been described as a pure scorer and as a player looking to score from the moment she steps onto the floor. The Vikings will need that against the Cardinal.

Montana (13) vs. Vanderbilt (4) - Albuquerque, N.M. - 10:30 p.m.
Mandy Morales, junior guard, Montana

Morales will be the reason that Montana upsets Vanderbilt today. Just a junior, she's everything for the Lady Grizz. Averaging 16 points, 4.5 boards, 5 assists and a couple threes a game, the Grizz will need all that and more from Morales - and will get it - when they meet the 'Dores.

Western Kentucky (10) vs. UTEP (7) - Stanford, Calif. - 10:30 p.m.
Izabela Piekarska and Kasia Krezel, senior center and guard, UTEP

The Polish connection is strong in El Paso, as Piekarska is from Warsaw and Krezel is from Krakow. Both Pollacks average over 10 points a game. Hey, I'm part Polish.

East Tennessee State (14) vs. Oklahoma State (3) - Des Moines, Iowa - 8 p.m.
Andrea Riley, sophomore guard, Oklahoma State

I'm sure East Tennessee State has some players to watch, and we've already talked about Riley this season. She's worth mentioning again. Riley can put her team on her back at any time and 40 points is always a possibility.

DePaul (10) vs. Marist (7) - Baton Rouge, La. - 8 p.m.
Rachele Fitz, sophomore forward, Marist

The Red Foxes leading scorer is having a better second season than her very successful first. Averaging almost 19 points and 8 boards, Fitz will need to have a big night if the Red Foxes are to make their second consecutive second round.

Florida State (11) vs. Ohio State (6) - Des Moines, Iowa - 10 p.m.
Jantel Lavender, freshman center, Ohio State

Stepping in for All-Everything No. 1 WNBA Draft pick Jessica Davenport is no easy task, but Lavender was more than up to the task. A team-leading 17.5 points per night to go along with 10 boards and this frosh is only getting better.

Jackson State (15) vs. LSU (2) - Baton Rouge, La. - 10 p.m.
Allison Hightower, sophomore guard, LSU

Everyone knows about the Tigers' senior stars Sylvia Fowles and Quianna Chaney, and as the only two Tigers averaging in double figures, teams will key on them. Hightower is still learning how to play with this senior-laden team, but the Tigers will need her to step up her 7.5 points per game and hit a few threes if they are hoping to make their fifth consecutive Final Four.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 11:48 AM on March 22, 2008

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