DePaul Women's Hoops Picked to Finish Fourth

New York, N.Y. - Rutgers University, the defending BIG EAST regular season champions, were picked as the preseason favorite to win the 2005-06 conference women's basketball regular season title. The poll is determined by a vote of the league's 16 head coaches who are not permitted to place their own teams on the ballot.

Rutgers' predicted first place finish marks the first time in 12 years that a team other than Connecticut was selected. Dating back to the 1993-94 season, Connecticut has been the preseason choice, and has won at least a share of the last 11 of 12 regular season titles.

Rutgers garnered 11 of 16 possible first-place votes to finish first with 221 points in the poll. The Scarlet Knights captured last year's regular season title with a 14-2 conference mark. Rutgers (28-7) advanced to the NCAA Championship for the seventh time in eight years, falling to Tennessee in the Elite Eight. The 2005-06 squad will be led by Preseason Player of the Year and All-BIG EAST Team selection Cappie Pondexter, a senior guard. Sophomore Matee Ajavon, also a preseason all-league member, is coming off a successful rookie campaign when she was named the 2005 BIG EAST Freshman of the Year.

Connecticut (25-8, 13-3 BIG EAST) will be defending its BIG EAST Championship title for the 12th time in program history. The Huskies, who were picked second, earned five first-place votes and 215 points in the poll. Advancing to the NCAA Championship for the 17th consecutive season, UConn bowed out to Stanford in the Sweet 16, ending its streak of three straight NCAA titles. Connecticut will be led by Preseason All-BIG EAST Team picks, seniors Barbara Turner and Ann Strother, who have also been tabbed as preseason candidates for the State Farm Wade Trophy and the Wooden Award.

Notre Dame grabbed 191 points to finish third in the preseason poll. Last year, the Irish posted a record of 27-6 overall, 13-3 in the league and returned to the NCAA Championship for the 10th straight year, every season since joining the BIG EAST in 1995. The Irish advanced to the BIG EAST Championship semifinals before falling to eventual champion, Connecticut. Senior Megan Duffy will lead charge for the Irish. The Preseason All-BIG EAST Team member is a candidate for the State Farm Wade Trophy and the Wooden Award.

BIG EAST newcomer DePaul was picked to finish fourth with 183 points. The Blue Demons are returning nine letterwinners and four starters from last season's 26-5 team that captured the Conference USA championship title. Two-time All-American and National Player of the Year candidate Khara Smith is back for her senior season after leading DePaul with 18.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Smith is one of three players from the new BIG EAST schools named to the Preseason All-BIG EAST Team, along with Louisville junior Jazz Covington and USF junior Jessica Dickson.

The 2006 BIG EAST Women's Basketball Championship will return to the Hartford Civic Center for the third straight year. After a successful tournament in 2005, the four-day event returns from March 4-7. The BIG EAST's top 12 teams will battle for the conference title and will earn the league's automatic bid to the 64-team NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship.

2005-06 Preseason Coaches' Poll

1. Rutgers (11) 221

2. Connecticut (5) 215

3. Notre Dame 191

4. DePaul 183

5. Villanova 167

6. Louisville 155

7. West Virginia 128

8. St. John's 118

9. USF 113

10. Marquette 98

11. Georgetown 78

12. Seton Hall 73

13. Pittsburgh 60

14. Syracuse 57

15. Cincinnati 48

16. Providence 15

The BIG EAST is the largest and most diverse Division I conference in the country. It was formed in 1979 and represents the athletic interests of 16 member institutions including the University of Cincinnati, University of Connecticut, DePaul University, Georgetown University, University of Louisville, Marquette University, University of Notre Dame, University of Pittsburgh, Providence College, Rutgers University, St. John's University, Seton Hall University, University of South Florida, Syracuse University, Villanova University and West Virginia University. The BIG EAST Conference has captured 25 national championships in six different sports and is a founding member of the Bowl Championship Series. For more information on the Conference and its membership, please visit www.bigeast.org.

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