Tulane women’s basketball: Top storylines _lowres

Advocate file photo by Rusty Costanza -- Tulane's Kolby Morgan

A league championship is likely off the table for the Tulane women’s basketball team as long as Connecticut is part of the American Athletic Conference.

An at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is very much in play, though, which is a huge improvement from the Green Wave’s latter days in Conference USA.

When practice begins Saturday, Tulane will be seeking its second consecutive trip to the Big Dance after missing it for 10 of the previous 11 years, getting there only as an automatic qualifier by winning the C-USA tournament in 2010.

“I had teams that won a lot of games when we were in Conference USA, and we just didn’t get that recognition,” coach Lisa Stockton said. “This teams knows they’ve got a chance now.”

Tulane was a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament a year ago, finishing 22-11 overall and 11-7 in the AAC. To make a return trip, the Wave must compensate for the loss of four seniors who played key roles, meshing a roster that includes six newcomers and five heavy contributors on the tourney team.

The arrival of 5-foot-10 freshman guard Taylor Emery, a Parade All-America selection who averaged 36.5 points as a senior at Tampa (Florida) Freedom High School, should make the transition easier. Her scoring average was the second highest in the nation, and she also was named Florida Class 7A player of the year.

“There’s something about players who know how to score,” Stockton said. “She’s got a great pull-up game. She’s really strong to the basket. She can defend and get past people and create.”

Emory lacks the speed of Grace Daley, a fellow Florida native and Tulane’s all-time leading scorer (1996-2000), but she is four inches taller. She joins holdovers Kolby Morgan, a John Curtis graduate who averaged a team-high 12.2 points as a freshman last year, Leslie Vorpahl, the Wave’s most accurate 3-point shooter (38.9 percent, 7.4 ppg) and part-time starters Chinwe Duru (6.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Courtnie Latham (5.5 ppg) and Tierra Jones (4.1 points).

“There are a lot of questions,” said Stockton, entering her 22nd season. “I feel really good about our returners, but we can’t really afford any injuries with them. The concern is how quickly we can integrate those six new ones into the system.”

Tulane’s ambitious nonconference schedule features five NCAA tournament teams — LSU, Florida State, Arkansas-Little Rock, Rutgers and Green Bay. The Wave will face the latter two teams in the Paradise Jam, a three-day tournament over Thanksgiving on the island of St. Thomas.

In the AAC, the Wave has home-and-home games with three-time defending national champion Connecticut and South Florida, which was a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.

“We had to earn our way in there (the NCAA tournament) with our schedule, and we have the same type of schedule this year,” Stockton said. “It’s a huge factor for us. I think our players have a different confidence going into this year because they know what to expect.”