Tulane women’s basketball: Top storylines _lowres

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

1: Dance fever

Tulane went to the NCAA tournament in coach Lisa Stockton’s first nine seasons (1995-2003). The final year of that stretch was the last time the Green Wave had back-to-back NCAA berths. Last season, the Green Wave women ended a five-year Big Dance drought. That was with a senior class driven to make it happen, even playing in the competitive American Athletic Conference. Last season, three AAC teams received berths. With three-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut heading the way, Tulane will have strong competition from South Florida, Temple, East Carolina, and Tulsa in the battle for berths.

2: Down and dirty

Last year’s Tulane team was known for playing gritty defense that was a key to it going 22-11, holding opponents to 58.3 points per game. However, the Green Wave lost four starters who played roles in that, particularly with their experience. And even with those players, Tulane was outrebounded last season. Stockton brought in freshmen who may be able to help under the basket, but it remains to be seen if they actually can do that.

3: Star in the making?

Shooting guard Kolby Morgan led Tulane in scoring (12.2 ppg) last season, finishing second among freshmen in the AAC. However, the Wave had balanced team scoring to support her. Stockton said she will lean heavily on Morgan for scoring this season. She has worked on expanding her game by improving her midrange capabilities and worked hard in the weight room to better finish drives to the basket. She likely will have to carry this team more this season. However, can she emerge as one of the better players in the conference, especially with opponents game plans focused to stop her?

4: Leadership challenge

Tulane returns six players, but nearly all were role players on a team in which the seniors were steadfast in taking on the responsibility. Players such as senior center Chinwe Duru (6.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and junior point guard Leslie Vorpahl (7.4 ppg) said they are ready, now that it’s their turn, and they learned a lot as understudies last year. Stockton said she’s been pleased with the leadership shown in practices, particularly scrimmages, and that it appears this season’s upperclassmen are looking forward to it. However, other than Morgan, none averaged more than 7.7 points. It will be interesting to see how they respond when the pressure is on.

5: Help wanted

This year’s freshman class brings size, and the newcomers include point guard Shakira Harding, a junior-college transfer who helped lead her team to a 71-2 record the past two seasons. Their development and emergence will be something to watch. Without it, Tulane will be thin depthwise on a team filled with steady, but not necessarily spectacular, performers. That could affect the Green Wave’s consistency, particularly defensively, on which it hangs its hat. Harding is expected to help Vorpahl in a conference in which there’s a lot of pressure to handle the ball, game by game.

— Darrell Williams

ROSTER

No., Name, Pos, Ht., Wt., Hometown

1, Shakira Harding, G, 5-7, Jr., Houma

3, Kolby Morgan, G, 5-8, So., Hammond

11, Leslie Vorpahl, G, 5-6, Jr., San Antonio

13, Caylah Cruickshank, G, 5-9, So., Montreal

14, Taylor Emery, G, 5-10, Fr., Tampa, Fla.

15, Tene Thompson, G, 5-11, Fr., Powder Spring, Ga.

22, Meredith Schulte, G, 6-0, Fr., Braselton, Ga.

25, Harlyn Wyatt, F, 6-2, Fr., Atlanta

30, Tierra Jones, G, 5-9, Sr., Madison, Ala.

33, Courtnie Latham, G, 5-11, Jr., Houston

34, Ksenija Madzarevic, C, 6-5, Fr., Novi Sad, Serbia

45, Chinwe Duru, C, 6-2, Sr., Round Rock, Texas

Coach: Lisa Stockton (438-215 entering 22nd season at Tulane, 501-242 entering 25th season overall)

2014-15 record: 22-11, 11-7 AAC (tied fifth)

Postseason: Lost 57-47 to Mississippi State in first round of NCAA tournament

SCHEDULE

November

13, UALR, 5:30 p.m.

17, Jackson State, 7 p.m.

19, at Florida State, 6 p.m.

23, LSU, 7 p.m.

Paradise Jam, U.S. Virgin Islands

26, Rutgers, 2:15 p.m.

27, Wisconsin-Green Bay, noon

28, Virginia, noon

December

6, McNeese State, 2 p.m.

16, at Ole Miss, 6 p.m.

18, Southern, 5 p.m.

Tulane Classic

20, UNC-Greensboro, 5 p.m.

21, Cleveland St. or Saint Louis, 3 or 5 p.m.

30, Houston*, 7 p.m.

January

3, at Memphis*, 4 p.m.

5, at East Carolina*, 6 p.m.

10, Central Florida*, 4 p.m.

13, South Florida*, 7 p.m.

16, at Tulsa*, 1 p.m.

20, at Southern Methodist*, 7 p.m.

23, East Carolina*, 2 p.m.

26, Temple*, 7 p.m.

February

3, UConn*, 7 p.m.

6, at Houston*, 2 p.m.

9, at South Florida*, 6 p.m.

14, Southern Methodist*, 2 p.m.

17, at Central Florida*, 6 p.m.

20, Tulsa*, 1 p.m.

23, at Temple*, 6 p.m.

27, at UConn*, noon

29, Cincinnati*, 7 p.m.

March

AAC tournament

4-7, at Uncasville, Conn.

*—AAC game