Tulane women get past Miami _lowres

Advocate file photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- Tulane women's basketball coach Lisa Stockton

After 742 games as a college head coach, 501 of them victories, and after 21 seasons at Tulane, Lisa Stockton was not too jaded Monday to have tears in her eyes,

When your team has made it back to the NCAA women’s tournament for the 11th time, but for the first time in five years, you’re certainly allowed to show some emotion.

“It’s was a stressful weekend,” Stockton said after the announcement that the Green Wave will play Mississippi State on Friday at Duke in its first-round game. “But this team responded to being in a new league and a tougher nonconference schedule in a special way.

“I’m just excited that things went our way.”

As well she should be.

Tulane was the final at-large team to make the tournament. An upset here or there in some of the conference tournaments would have meant a fifth straight WNIT. That’s a consolation prize that gets old after a couple of times.

There was a time when Tulane was an NCAA regular — nine times in Stockton’s first seasons at a school that had never come close before.

But then the success became harder to come by for a variety of reasons. There was only one more NCAA appearance since 2003 before this one.

Katrina, obviously didn’t help. The storm brought Tulane athletics to its knees in ways that the public will never fully appreciate.

That’s why Stockton counts the 2007 Conference USA regular season championship among her proudest accomplishments. The Wave did not win the league tournament that year and was denied an NCAA berth because of a low RPI.

But Stockton stuck it out. She’s the only coach at the school left from a decade ago.

And that wasn’t because she offers to go elsewhere including one from Florida in the post-storm era.

“For me, it was just a great fit: Tulane, New Orleans and the kind of kids I knew I would be able to coach,” said Stockton, who can claim a 100 percent graduation rate for every four-year player she’s had. “It all just seems to make it worthwhile.

“I don’t want to sound like a martyr or anything, but it was hard here for a while. But now we’re in a better position than we’ve ever been.”

That includes, Stockton added being in the American Athletic Conference with super power UConn, which makes winning the league tournament and getting an automatic bid to the tournament pretty much a non-option.

So the Wave, which had been to the WNIT for the past four seasons, had to play well enough to impress the section committee and get an at-large berth.

They did — barely — despite victories over fellow at-large teams LSU and Miami. Tulane was the last team in.

That also was the case 20 years ago when Tulane got its first bid. The Wave was even a No. 15 seed — something impossible now that automatic berths go to all 31 conferences, and wound up traveling to Texas Tech, where it lost to the Lady Raiders in the first round.

“We weren’t expecting it,” said Barbara Farris, a freshman on that 1995 team. I don’t even think they had bracketology for the men then, much less the women.

“We just played each game as it came and figured ignorance was bliss. But it was an exciting day,”

Farris went on to become one of the top players in school history. She spent 11 years playing professionally and for the last five years has been the coach at John Curtis.

It was Stockton, along with assistant Katie Meyer, now at Miami, Farris said, that gave her the inspiration to be a coach.

“It sort of came to me late that I would enjoy coaching because I saw how much love and passion Lisa and Katie put into it,” she said. “Lisa changed the culture of women’s basketball at Tulane to one of success.

“And she has always stressed having smart young ladies who go on to graduate and do outstanding things with their lives. Lisa epitomizes what it means to be a consummate coach.”

Among Stockton’s players this year is freshman Kolby Morgan, who played for Farris at John Curtis. Morgan is the team’s only player averaging in double figures.

“Coach Barbara told me that if I came to Tulane I would be under a great coach and be at a great school,” Morgan said. “So far, she’s been right.”

Being able to recruit players like Morgan, Stockton said, keeps her enthusiastic about coaching, and especially for remaining at Tulane.

“I know there’s been a lot of talk this year about the 500 wins, and that is a milestone,” said Stockton, who was the coach at Division III Greensboro College for three seasons prior to Tulane. “But it makes me think about all of the players I had that made it possible.

“They’re what make it all worthwhile.”