Oct. 23, 2002

Norman, Okla. - The University of Oklahoma women's basketball team is the preseason pick to finish fourth in this year's Big 12 Conference race as voted on by the league's head coaches and released by the conference office Wednesday.

Texas Tech nabbed six first-place votes and totaled 114 points, narrowly edging out second place Kansas State which had four first-place votes and 113 points. Texas was not far behind in third place with the other two first-place votes and 105 points. Oklahoma and Colorado rounded out the top five with 88 and 79 points, respectively.

"The Big 12 Conference will be again be one of the toughest women's basketball conferences in the country," said OU Head Coach Sherri Coale. "The three teams ranked above us in the Big 12 preseason poll have been appearing in the top 15 in national preseason polls, but the only poll that really matters is the final one in March. We're looking forward to competing for our fourth consecutive Big 12 title."

Iowa State was sixth with 70 points, followed by seventh place Baylor, 59 points; eighth place Missouri, 55 points; ninth place Oklahoma State, 38 points; 10th place Texas A&M, 32 points; 11th place Kansas, 24 points; and 12th place Nebraska, 15 points.

Oklahoma's Maria Villarroel was named Preseason Newcomer of the Year. The 5-8 junior guard averaged 24 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 3.2 steals as a sophomore at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M last season. She is a two-time junior college Kodak All-America selection as well as Bi-State Athletic Conference and Region II Player of the Year. The Margarita, Venezuela, native played her freshman season at Independence [Kan.] Junior College and was a second team NJCAA All-America and conference player of the year. Kansas State's Nicole Ohlde was named Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, while Texas Tech's Erin Grant was named Preseason Freshman of the Year.

"Maria is going to be a lot of fun to coach," Coale said. "She has great tools and a remarkable work ethic. She should play an integral role in filling the shoes of the talented backcourt we graduated."

Ohlde is joined on the Preseason All-Big 12 team by Texas' Stacy Stephens, Texas Tech's Jia Perkins and Pierson, Iowa State's Lindsey Wilson, and Oklahoma's Caton Hill. Pierson and Hill tied for the fifth position. Perkins, Stephens and Wilson were named to the 2001-02 All-Big 12 second team while Hill was a third team member.

Hill, OU's only returning starter from last year's Final Four team, returns as Oklahoma's top scorer and rebounder. She ranked 19th in the conference in scoring last season with 12.6 ppg, ninth in rebounding (6.9), eighth in free throw percentage (.812), seventh in three-point field goal percentage (.398), and eighth in defensive rebounds (4.94).

"Caton has been a key ingredient in the resurgence of our program," said Coale. "She is our leader and a proven performer and this recognition is a reflection of the respect the coaches in this league have for her."

The Big 12 kicks off its season with the annual Basketball Media Days Oct. 30-31 in Dallas. Women's Media Day will be on Oct. 30 followed by the men on Oct. 31. Oklahoma and Texas Tech open the regular season at the State Farm Tip-Off Classic Nov. 10 in Knoxville, Tenn.

2002-03 Big 12 Conference Women's Basketball Coaches Preseason Poll
1. Texas Tech (6)114
2. Kansas State (4)113
3. Texas (2)105
4. Oklahoma 88
5. Colorado 79
6. Iowa State 70
7. Baylor 59
8. Missouri 55
9. Oklahoma State 38
10. Texas A&M 32
11. Kansas 24
12. Nebraska 15

(first place votes in parentheses; coaches not allowed to vote for own team)