February 1, 1998
A recent New York Times crossword puzzle had this clue for 15 Across: "Conference USA powerhouse." The answer: your very own Tulane Green Wave. For the Tulane women's basketball team, which only lost two starters from last year, the power title fits nicely.
With an 11-3 record by mid-January, coach Lisa Stockton's players seem positioned to defend their twin Conference USA regular season and conference championships. Winning power has proven more elusive for the men's team, coached by Perry Clark. With an overall record of 5-9 in mid-January, and a team populated mostly by freshmen and sophomores, Clark brings up the "R" word: rebuilding.
"Anytime you lose your best player, there's a little drop off," he reflected, speaking from his Rhode Island hotel room prior to a nationally televised game with a hot Rhode Island team on Jan. 15. "When you lose your four best players, then you're in a rebuilding situation."
A demanding schedule also kept the young team on the road much of December. The result was a disappointing start for Tulane fans, who have watched the men's team win 20 games a season in five of the last six years. "We're not used to this," Clark admits. "We've always won our division in Conference USA."
Nevertheless, he sees positives; in the last five games, the team has limited opponents to 30-percent shooting, and has showed rebounding strength. He is most concerned about a high number of turnovers per game, partly the result of not having an experienced, legitimate point guard. The coach is extremely happy, however, with the play of Byron Mouton, his highly recruited freshman point guard from Rayne, La., who is leading the team with more than 16 points per game.
Clark was preparing to start three freshmen against Rhode Island. "It's the youngest team I've ever had," he said, "but they're giving it everything they have. They're not down and I'm not down. I'm not altogether surprised at where we are and I'm not altogether disappointed."
Clark looks for the team to improve as the season continues. For the women's team, the challenge this season is staying on top, after gaining its first preseason national ranking. Stockton said, "We're the team to beat and it's a different role now. It's a challenge to be good every night, but we have a lot more confidence, a lot more pride. A benefit of success is the attitude of expecting to win."
Although starting point guard Rodnelle Hadley was nursing an ankle injury as Stockton was preparing her team for a Jan. 17 contest on regional television with the University of Alabama/Birmingham, the coach remained pleased with her team's depth and talent. She has one towering reason to be happy: her freshman center, 6-foot, 5-inch Janelle Burse of New Orleans, the program's tallest player ever.
With a demanding stretch of road games ahead bringing her team to Marquette, Louisville and Cincinnati, the toughest teams in the conference, Stockton is keeping her players focused on the powerful goals of defending their conference championships and gaining a return visit to the NCAA tournament.
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