Key games in the 2011-12 women’s college basketball season:
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An early season test for both squads. Tennessee will be more scrutinized than usual with coach Pat Summitt revealing this summer that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia. The Hurricanes are led by super guard tandem of Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams. The pair helped Miami win the ACC last season for the first time since the Hurricanes joined the conference in 2004.
The defending national champion Aggies will get a tough opening test against the Cardinals. Texas A&M is hoping Kelsey Bone can make up for the loss of Danielle Adams to graduation and complement Tyra White. The Cardinals are led by talented guard Shoni Schimmel who is joined this year by her sister Jude.
Preseason WNIT Finals
If all goes according to plan, No. 1 Baylor will host second-ranked Notre Dame in an early season showdown between the top teams in the nation in the preseason WNIT. The Lady Bears are led by 6-foot-8 phenom Brittney Griner, who spent the early part of the school year on a 12-day tour with the U.S. national women’s basketball team. Notre Dame is led by super guard Skylar Diggins who led the Irish to the national title game last season before falling to Texas A&M.
Annual matchup between two of the top programs over the last decade. Stanford ended UConn’s record winning streak last season when the Huskies went out West. This will be the first real test of the season for the Maya Moore-less Huskies, who will need to find a way to stop the Ogwumike sisters – Nnemkadi and Chiney.
Maggie Dixon Classic
Another strong doubleheader at Madison Square Garden features Baylor against St. John’s in the opener. Tennessee faces DePaul in the second game. Pat Summitt will get the Maggie Dixon courage award between games and a likely rousing ovation from the New York crowd.
Normally this would just be an interesting non-conference matchup between the Pac-12 and SEC. But that was before Nikki Caldwell left the Bruins to take the job at LSU this spring. Should be a strong test for both teams, once they get past the emotions and down to basketball.
JAN. 7, FEB. 27:
The Irish were picked to win the conference for the first time since 2002 in the preseason Big East poll. Not a huge surprise since they have most of last season’s NCAA runner-up squad returning that knocked out UConn in the Final Four. Don’t expect the Huskies to go away quietly as they have won the last four conference championships. The talented UConn freshmen class led by Kaleena Mosquite-Lewis.
JAN. 7, JAN. 29:
Michigan State-Penn State
Coquese Washington has No. 12 Penn State at its best ranking since the end of the 2004 season. Led by star guard Alex Bentley the Nittany Lions have high expectations for the season with four starters returning as well as Big Ten newcomer of the year Maggie Lucas. To win the conference title Penn State will have to get through defending champion Michigan State, which won its first outright title last season. Coach Suzy Merchant will need to find a replacement for Kalisha Keane if they want to repeat.
FEB. 11, FEB. 27:
Sadly, this will be the last time these two Texas rivals meet in the regular season as the Aggies head off to the SEC next season. Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said she won’t play Texas A&M anymore after the school leaves. The two teams played four times last season in thrilling games. Baylor won the first three, but Texas A&M won the final one in the NCAA regional final in front of 11,500 fans.
The ACC title should be on the line when these two meet in North Carolina. Miami has a talented veteran backcourt, while the Blue Devils have a budding young star in Chelsea Gray. The difference may be the play of Duke freshman Elizabeth Williams against transfer Pepper Wilson.
Denver will host the Final Four this year, marking the first time that it will be in the Mountain time zone. Hopefully, the altitude won’t effect play.