La Tech, which has played in five NCAA championship games under legendary coach Leon Barmore, will play New Mexico, the host school, on December 21, 2002. Both games will be played at The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The tentative schedule, pending nationwide TV schedules, has BYU-Alabama as the earlier game and La Tech-New Mexico following that. Both games are tentatively set for mid-day.
"We are extremely happy to have these four quality teams participating in the Triple Crown Classic," event director Brent Amick said. "Both games should be very competitive and entertaining. It'll be an outstanding day of women's basketball."
La Tech is one of just two schools nationwide to play in all 21 NCAA Tournaments. Barmore, with a 576-87 record, has the best winning percentage (.869) of all active Division I coaches, among both men's and women's programs. The Lady Techsters return two starters from their 25-5 season, including the Western Athletic Conference MVP in Cheryl Ford, a 6-foot-3 center who averaged 12.1 points and 4.7 rebounds last season. Amber Obaze (5-8 guard; 12.1 ppg) joins her on the court, as does the WAC freshman of the year Erica Smith, a 5-10 guard who averaged 7.9 ppg and 2.6 rpg off the bench.
Barmore welcomes a nine-member recruiting class that was ranked No. 3 in the nation by All-Star Girls Report. "As a longtime power in women's basketball, Louisiana Tech brings to the event one of the nation's premier programs, as well as one of the top coaches in the game in Leon Barmore," Amick said.
New Mexico, which finished 2002 with a 22-9 record after a first-round loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament, returns the majority of its teams and four of five starters. Jordan Adams (14.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Chelsea Grear (9.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) highlight the returning players. "The tremendous New Mexico fans will have a unique opportunity to see one of the nation's premier women's basketball programs, and in Leon Barmore, one of the top coaches in the country," Amick said.
The other game will give New Mexico fans a sneak preview of their Mountain West Conference foe when BYU takes on Alabama. BYU was one of the nation's surprises last season when the Cougars upset Florida and Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament and nearly beat Tennessee before being defeated in the Sweet 16 game, their best-ever showing.
BYU returns Erin Thorn (17.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Jennifer Leitner (12.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg) from its 24-9 team that captured the MWC Tournament title.
Alabama advanced to its 11th straight postseason appearance when it made it to the Elite Eight of the WNIT. Beth Vice (12.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Katie Sipe (8.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg) are back from that 19-12 team.
In last year's Triple Crown Classic at Texas Tech, No. 3-ranked Vanderbilt was upset by Texas Tech, and Colorado defeated LSU.