No. 1 UConn escapes Tulane with 101st straight win

Tulane guard Kayla Manuirirangi (5) screens Connecticut guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson as guard Kolby Morgan last year in New Orleans.

Associated Press file photo

When Tulane's women's basketball team opens its season Friday in the Maine Tip-Off Tournament, coach Lisa Stockton said she wants to develop a player rotation and integrate four newcomers whose contributions will be needed.

However, Stockton also will be curious to see how well the Green Wave rebounds. Stockton, entering her 24th season as Tulane's head coach, said the lack of rebounding cost her team an invitation to the NCAA Tournament last season.

“It's been an emphasis (in the preseason) for us,” she said. “I don't think our team has to be a plus-10 in rebounding to be successful this year, but I definitely believe it's got to be something that we're consistent on, game to game.”

The Green Wave was 18-14 overall and 7-9 in the American Athletic Conference last season and participated in the Women's NIT for the sixth time in seven seasons. Tulane's most recent NCAA tournament appearance was in 2015.

Last season, the Wave was sixth in the AAC in rebounding margin, and its top rebounder was shooting guard Kolby Morgan (5.7 per game). She was 13th in conference (6.6), and Tulane's next-leading rebounder in AAC play was center Harlyn Wyatt (5.4). The Wave went 4-7 in conference games in which it was outrebounded.

Stockton said rebounding has to be a team concern. Wyatt, a junior, said a lot of that is on her but she's up to the task.

“Last season, I had a lot of things I was thinking about concerning what I had to do (on the court),” she said. “But rebounding has to be the first thing, offensively and defensively. I have to do better, and I know rebounding is one of my strengths.”

That will be tested right away. Tulane opens against Maine, which the Wave beat 77-62 last year in Tulane's tournament. However, Maine's head coach, Richard Barron, is on medical leave and a handful of players have transferred.

If Tulane beats Maine, the Wave will play the winner of Harvard and Dayton, which could be an even bigger test.

Harvard, picked to finish third in the Ivy League this season, boasts 6-3 sophomore forward Jeannie Boehm, who played on the USA U-19 team last summer. She averaged 7.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks as a freshman.

Dayton, selected to win the Atlantic 10, has senior center Alex Harris, an all-defense team selection; and sophomore forward Jordan Wilmoth. Both are 6-3.

Along with Morgan, a senior who's been all-conference since her freshman year, Stockton said one of the Wave's strengths will be its junior class of Wyatt, forward Meredith Schulte, 5-foot-11 guard Tene Thompson and 6-5 center Ksenija Madzarevic. Indications from practices, exhibition games and a scrimmage against Ole Miss are that a year of experience has made them better.

The position that bears watching, however, is point guard. Kayla Manuirirangi, a 5-7 sophomore from New Zealand, is the starter, but she hasn't started a collegiate game and averaged 6.3 minutes per game last season. She is a good ball-handler and even better shooter but is not very quick. Backing her up is 5-5 freshman Kaila Anderson, who is quick but obviously inexperienced.

Facing a schedule that has Vanderbilt, Iowa State, LSU, Middle Tennessee and difficult conference foes in Connecticut, South Florida, Temple and others, pressure and trapping defenses will be the norm. In the worst-case scenario, Morgan would be pressed to play an unexpected number of minutes at the point, perhaps limiting the effectiveness of the best player on the team.