As the NCAA women’s basketball season starts this weekend with No. 2 Duke traveling to take on No. 9 Cal on Sunday followed by No. 4 Tennessee visiting No. 12 North Carolina on Monday, ESPN analyst Kara Lawson took some time to answer some questions from the Triangle Sports Network about the upcoming season for Triangle basketball fans.
TSportsNet: What are the keys for a team like Duke to break through the Elite 8 glass ceiling this season?
Lawson: The first key is health. The last two seasons, two of their best players have missed time. Elizabeth Williams and Chelsea Gray are key pieces to their success and not having them at full strength has hurt. This team has a great deal of talent, after UConn probably the most talented starting five in the country – three seniors in the starting lineup. On paper, this is the best team they have had the last few seasons, so the expectation should be making the Final Four and competing for the title.”
Offensively, they need to remain balanced. I’m most interested in their performance in “big” games through the course of the season. In order to have that Final Four breakthrough, the focus needs to be on playing their best in March.”
TSportsNet: Though the SEC has placed the most teams in the preseason Top 25, with recent conference realignments, the ACC seems poised to soon establish itself as the top conference in the country. Agree or disagree, and what will be necessary for that to happen?
Lawson: From the women’s basketball standpoint, losing Maryland to the Big 10 in conference realignment, hurts in terms of losing a high quality team on the national level, but certainly adding Notre Dame helps. It’s a title that is probably too close to call. I think we will see a bit of an upswing in the SEC over the next couple of seasons.
TSportsNet: With recent rule changes and adjustments, what should fans expect to see more/less of in the women’s game this season?
The goals of the rule changes is to create more scoring and cut down on the physical play. With consistency of application of these rules, I think fans should expect more scoring. It might come from the FT line early in the season rather than from the field.
TSportsNet: With the adversity that North Carolina faces as a result of Coach Hatchell’s leukemia diagnosis/treatment, how can that situation be used as a motivating factor to overachieve when facing a top-ranked team like Tennessee this early in the season?
Lawson: This season will be a process for UNC. They have a lot of talent of their roster. The freshmen bring a high skill level and the offensive end of the floor. Their depth is improved. I believe the adversity will help this group focus and performing at a high level. Sylvia is still in contact with the team via text and watches practice film every day. Her presence is still felt around the team.
The Blue Devils and Golden Bears tip off on ESPNU at 6 p.m. on Sunday, while the Volunteers and Tar Heels jump at 9 p.m. on ESPN2 as part of the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.