Crook teammate and returning guard Casey Baker ended her junior season with 105 steals, a figure that ranks third best among C-USA's all-time single-season record list. Head Coach Royce Chadwick has four starters returning and six letterwinners back from a squad that advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament and produced an overall record of 17-16.
After advancing to the third round of the 2008 WNIT, Southern Miss enters the season as Conference USA women's basketball pre-season favorite to win the 2009 regular season title as voted on by the league's head coaches. The Golden Eagles collected eight first-place votes. C-USA's Pre-season Player of the Year honors goes to UTEP's Jareica Hughes. Hughes became just the second sophomore in league history to be voted Player of the Year in 2008. She guided the Miners to a national ranking, a flawless conference record and the program's first conference regular season title. Fifth-year head coach Joye Lee-McNelis returns her starting five as well as 91 percent of the team's scoring and 89 percent of its rebounding from a year ago.
Southern Miss wrapped up the 2008 campaign with an overall record of 21-14. Pauline Love, a Preseason All-C-USA selection, led Southern Miss in scoring (16.2) and rebounding (10.3), becoming the first player to average a double-double since Brandy Reed (21.7ppg/11.6rpg) do so in 1996. The junior also became the first All-Conference first team selection since 1995-96. C-USA's three post-season teams from a year ago are expected to battle it out for the 2008-09 regular season title as SMU and UTEP follow Southern Miss as the second and third picks, respectively.
SMU enters this season as the defending C-USA Tournament champions and looks to make a run for the 2009 regular season title as head coach Rhonda Rompola returns three starters and eight letter winners from a team that went 24-9 a year ago. The Mustangs 24 victories marked a program's all-time best. Leading SMU this season will be juniors Delisha Wills and Jillian Samuels, as well as sophomore Brittany Gilliam. The trio are the top three returning scorers for the Mustangs. SMU appeared in its seventh NCAA Championship in 2008.
The Miners, who received three first-place votes from the coaches, became the first team in league history to march through the conference slate unbeaten (16-0). The Miners also became the 11th different program in league history to win a regular season crown. UTEP ended the 2008 season ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 25 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. Head coach Keitha Adams returns two starters, including Hughes. Hughes is the only player in program history to have compiled more than 800 points, 300 assists and 100 steals. She led the Miners in scoring (14.6), assists (5.5) and ranked second in steals (2.8) per game as a sophomore.
Picking up one first-place vote and the fourth-most points, East Carolina enters the 2008-09 season as the only program in C-USA that returns two of the league's Top 10 scorers. After earning All-C-USA second team honors and surpassing the 1,000-point scoring mark a year ago, ECU seniors Jasmine Young and LaCoya Terry both appear on the 2008 All-C-USA Preseason list. Terry averaged a team-best 15.4 points per game, while Young chipped in 14.1 points per game. Terry also recorded a C-USA single-game best of 35 points against UAB on Feb. 21. Young led the team and ranked 13th in the NCAA is assists per game, averaging 6.2. She is only 68 assists shy of taking over the No. 2 spot on the league's all-time list, she currently owns 556 career assists. She also appears at No. 5 and No. 15 on the league's all-time assists (6.0) and steals (2.5) per game charts. Head coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener welcomes back four starters from last season's squad, three of whom were a part of the 2007 C-USA Championship team.
Tulane, host of the 2009 C-USA Women's Basketball Championship, returns three starters and nine letterwinners from last year's team that went 16-14. Head coach Lisa Stockton, C-USA's all-time winningest women's basketball coach, has a well-balanced roster with seven veterans and six underclassmen. She also sports one of the best point guards in the nation in junior Ashley Langford. Langford is a two-time C-USA All-Conference third team selection and currently ranks fifth among the league's all-time assists leader with 538, 85 shy of second-place.
The 2008-09 regular season is set to tip-off on Nov. 14 as 11 of C-USA's 12 teams will be in action that night. This year's conference championship is slated for March 5-8 at Fogelman Arena in New Orleans. Tulane University will host this four-day event.