March 13, 2002
GAME: No. 16 Hartford (16-14) vs. No. 1 Oklahoma (27-3).
REGIONAL: West, First Round.
TIME: Saturday, 9:30 p.m. EST.
SITE: Lloyd Noble Center; Norman, Okla.
There will be two outstanding point guards at the Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday - the one playing for Oklahoma and the one coaching Hartford.
Jennifer Rizzotti returns to the NCAA tournament, this time as a coach, when she leads Hartford to face Stacey Dales and Oklahoma in the first round of the West Regional.
Dales, twice a first-team selection to the All-America team, is among the reasons Oklahoma is one of the few teams given a chance to defeat unbeaten Connecticut.
Rizzotti knows something about perfect Connecticut teams. She was the point guard on the Huskies' undefeated national champion squad in 1995 and was the AP Player of the Year the following season.
She became Hartford's coach in 1999 and needed just three seasons to lead the Hawks to their first NCAA tournament. The Hawks set a school record with 16 wins this season and earned the America East Conference's automatic bid by beating Stony Brook 50-47 in the tournament championship game.
"I know nothing about Hartford but I do know about Jen Rizzotti, and if her team plays anything like her than we had better be ready because she'll fight you until the final buzzer," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "I know they will be scrappy, they'll play hard and play with a lot of energy. We will have to be ready for them."
Coale's team, however, has a definite advantage in talent and has the benefit of playing at home for the first two rounds.
The Sooners will be trying to make up for a disappointing 2001 NCAA tournament. Oklahoma was a No. 2 seed in the West Regional last year but was upset by Washington in the round of 16.
"We did not go down playing like us," Coale said of that loss. "The only way this year ends in a disappointment for us is if we go down not being who we are."
The key for Oklahoma is its excellent backcourt, led by Dales. She averages 17.3 points and 4.9 assists, while LaNeishea Caufield adds 17.1 points per game.
The Sooners are 12-0 at home this season and are averaging 77.4 points per game. Four players average in double figures.
Oklahoma was dominant in the Big 12 tournament, winning its three games by an average of 22 points before earning its first No. 1 seeding for the NCAA tournament.
"It really puts a stamp on everything, and it sends a statement nationally," Dales said of the conference tournament title. "And we can carry this momentum with us. The party's not over yet."
Hartford will have to find a way to slow Oklahoma down to have any chance at the upset. The Hawks score only 62.5 points per game, but they limit opponents to an average of 59.5.
"We've worked so hard to get here," Rizzotti said. "My team is up for any challenge."
The winner advances to face No. 8 Pepperdine or No. 9 Villanova.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Hartford - F Janeka Lopp (12.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg), F Jamisen Franks (1.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg), C Kenitra Johnson (12.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg), G Ernestine Austin (3.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg), G Angie Pezzetta (5.8 ppg, 2.6 apg). Oklahoma - F Caton Hill (12.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), F Jamie Talbert (7.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg), G Rosalind Ross (11.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg), G Caufield (17.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg), G Dales (17.3 ppg, 4.0 apg).
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Hartford - Automatic bid, America East tournament champion. Oklahoma - Automatic bid, Big 12 tournament champion.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Hartford - 1st appearance. Oklahoma - 6-4, 4 years.