Throughout the Tulane women’s basketball team’s nonconference schedule, the plan was to get six newcomers up to speed and have them blend in with the Green Wave’s upperclassmen.
Tulane (9-3) begins play in the competitive American Athletic Conference at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Houston (4-7).
“This team has such great chemistry,” Tulane coach Lisa Stockton said. “I think that’s one reason that gives me hope that this team can continue to develop.”
From a class of five freshmen and a junior-college transfer, the Green Wave has fashioned a bench Stockton said has proven it can help. Guard Taylor Emery, a Parade All-American, post player Harlyn Wyatt and guard/forwards Meredith Schulte and Tene Thompson give Tulane a nine-man rotation. Schulte had a concussion in practice Monday and will miss Wednesday’s game.
All are freshmen, so it remains to be seen how they will perform against No. 1-ranked Connecticut, No. 20 South Florida, as well as Temple, East Carolina and Tulsa, which are expected to battle the Wave for a top-three position in conference.
“(The freshmen) all do their roles well,” Stockton said. “And you always know they are going to continue to improve.”
Another positive has been the play of senior center Chinwe Duru and senior power forward Tierra Jones in the past five games, plus the emergence of junior guard/forward Courtnie Latham.
Latham scored a career-high 23 points against Saint Louis on Dec. 21 and the next day became the first Tulane player to be selected AAC player of the week. Jones had 15 rebounds in that game, and Duru was chosen the Tulane Classic tournament’s most valuable player.
They join the team’s top two scorers: guards Kolby Morgan (16.7 points per game) and Leslie Vorpahl (10.2).
Latham’s play as the backup point guard for the first time bears watching in conference play. At 5-feet-11, she is a good ball-handler who also has good vision in helping break presses, which most of the conference’s teams often use.
Tulane went 22-11 last year, including 11-7 in conference, in gaining an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 2010. Its nonconference schedule, against which it went 11-4, was a big reason the Wave was selected. Tulane is 48th in the Ratings Percentage Index, which measures strength of schedule, third in the conference behind No. 1 UConn and No. 12 South Florida. So another good conference season likely would get Tulane back in the NCAAs.
Lurking behind Tulane, however, are No. 51 Gonzaga (10-4), No. 56 Maryland (11-1, ranked sixth), No. 63 Oklahoma State (10-1) as well as No. 71 Mississippi State (13-1, ranked eighth) and No. 74 Virginia Tech (11-1), which could make things interesting come selection time.
Similar to last season, the keys appear to be rebounding and turnovers. Tulane has been outrebounded in five games and only once in its toughest three-game stretch of the season. After committing 27 turnovers in a win against McNeese State, that gradually went down to 10 against Saint Louis.
“We started off the season fine,” Stockton said. “We probably started over-passing. The guards we have now are as good of ball-handlers that I’ve had on the floor at one time. So that’s not an issue.”
The Wave won both games last season against Houston, by 30 at home and 17 on the road.