After making the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in five years, the Tulane women’s basketball team likely will have to grow up this season to achieve similar success.
The Green Wave, which went 22-11 last season, has six newcomers, including five freshmen for the first time since 2010. Tulane has six returnees but lost four senior starters off last season’s team, which held opponents to 58.3 points per game.
The Wave will play its second season in the American Athletic Conference, which features three-time defending national champion Connecticut, South Florida and tough teams in Temple and Tulsa.
Coach Lisa Stockton, speaking Wednesday at Tulane’s media day, said last year’s experience will help the Wave this season. After an exhibition game against Loyola on Nov. 5, Tulane tips off the season at home against Arkansas-Little Rock on Nov. 13.
“When you look at our returners, all of them played significant minutes,” said Stockton, who is entering her 22nd year and has guided Tulane to nine consecutive winning seasons. “We have some of our best defenders back. Our leading scorer was Kolby Morgan, a freshman. We’ve got significant minutes back.”
Morgan, a shooting guard from John Curtis, will be key. She averaged 12.2 points per game last season. This summer, she worked on weaknesses exposed last season: getting better with her left hand and improving her midrange game.
“Last season, I was pretty much driving to the basket and shooting 3s,” she said.
Stockton said Morgan also worked hard in the weight room and is stronger and better able to finish drives.
Morgan will be surrounded by junior point guard Leslie Vorpahl, 5-foot-11 guard Courtnie Latham, guard Tierra Jones and center Chinwe Duru, 6-2, all of whom return.
“I think we’re very versatile this year,” Morgan said. “We have a lot of guards who can play (shooting guard) through (power forward).
“So, it’s going to be hard to defend that compared to last year when it was like you had a spot, and this is your two (position) or three or four or five.”
How far Tulane goes likely will depend on the newcomers, however, who comprise the team’s depth. Stockton said the six comprise one of the best recruiting classes Tulane has had.
Shakira Harding, a point guard and junior college transfer who went 71-2 in two years at Hutchinson (Kansas) junior college, will be counted on to back up Vorpahl and Morgan.
“(Harding is) experienced and very steady, which is just what we needed,” Stockton said.
The development of two others, freshmen Harlyn Wyatt and Ksenija Madzarevic, could make Tulane more competitive.
Wyatt, 6-2, from Atlanta, and the only listed forward on the team, has shown in practices and pickup games to be very skilled for a big player, teammates say. Madzarevic, 6-5 and from Novi Sad, Serbia, sprained an ankle six weeks ago and is adjusting to the system and the play of her teammates.
Stockton said Wyatt, daughter of former Clemson player Horace Wyatt, likely will be the first player off the bench. Morgan said Duru, a physical player, along with Wyatt, Madzarevic could give the Wave a fighting chance.
“We should be able to outrebound more teams this year compared to last year,” Morgan said. “We always lose the rebounding battle, and that was always one of our biggest difficulties. This year, I believe, we have rebounders who can really so something on the boards.”
The other freshmen are guards Taylor Emery, the Miss Florida Basketball and 7A player of the year; Tene Thompson, 5-11; and Meredith Shulte, 6-0.
Stockton is betting another ambitious early-season portion of the schedule will get the Wave prepared for conference play. The Wave was in third place in conference before stumbling down the stretch and finishing fifth.
“Our challenge had been to mix the (returnees and newcomers) and elevate our play as quickly as possible,” she said. “I think the six newcomers are bringing some great skill, and they’re going to be very good players for us.
“I’m really happy with where our returners have led this team (in practices) and showed the intensity we play with.”