These four squads have plenty of ties

Updated: November 15, 2003, 5:05 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

To get ready for Sunday's State Farm Tip-Off Classic -- Texas vs. Duke and Purdue vs. Kansas State -- we can do some six-degrees-of-separation stuff with these four teams:

  • We'll start with Purdue coach Kristy Curry, a Louisiana native. Her hometown is Olla, which means if anyone asks where she's from, she can say Ollala in a very musical tone. The other Bayou Stater who will play a starring role Sunday is Duke guard Alana Beard, of Shreveport.

    Curry doesn't need to worry about Beard this weekend, but she will have to the next week at the Jimmy V Classic when the Boilermakers meet the Blue Devils.

    "Having the chance to watch Alana grow up in Louisiana,'' said Curry, a former assistant at Louisiana Tech, "and to see her become the player she is and the impact she's had on the game has been special.''

  • Duke coach Gail Goestenkors will have a flashback or two when she enters Mackey Arena. She was an assistant coach at Purdue under Lin Dunn from 1986-92.

    "I'm really excited -- I worked their elite camp not long after I got to Duke, but other than that I haven't been back there,'' Goestenkors said. "The fans were always wonderful there; it's grown so much. There were maybe 400 people in the stands my first year.''

    But in 1990, the Boilermakers came close to selling out Mackey for a game with Iowa, drawing 13,498.

    "I remember when we walked out for that game, it was an unbelievable feeling,'' she said. "We had pumped up that game all summer and fall leading up to that season.

    "We talked about it with the players, but you couldn't prepare for it. You just had to experience it. It was sort of like us (at Duke) selling out for UConn last season. That was a new experience for us.''

  • Purdue point guard Erika Valek played high school ball in Lubbock, Texas ... the hometown of Kansas State assistant coach Kamie Ethridge, an All-America point guard for Texas in the 1980s. Duke's "Ethridge'' connection: She worked very hard -- but unsuccessfully -- to recruit Blue Devils guard Lindsey Harding.

  • Harding and Texas' Nina Norman, Coco Reed and Mercedes Williams all played high school ball in Houston.

  • This doubleheader benefits the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.; Ethridge and Texas coach Jody Conradt both have been inducted. Going into the Hall next June will be Amy Ruley, the North Dakota State coach who was a starter for Purdue when the program began in 1975.

  • Texas likes to run and run and run. Duke likes to run and run and run.

  • "I'd pay my money to see it,'' Conradt said. "I think that's how the game is supposed to be played and how the players like to play it. It's one of the things that has drawn spectators to the sport.''

  • Texas and Duke tie for "most pleasantly goofy'' player award. Duke's Iciss Tillis can expertly impersonate both Cher and Miss Piggy; Texas' Stacy Stephens has a poster advertising the annual wiener-dog race in Buda, Texas, on her wall.

  • Texas and Duke both have 6-3 freshmen blue-chippers who were on everybody's All-America teams as prep seniors: the Longhorns' Tiffany Jackson and the Blue Devils' Brittany Hunter.

  • Kansas State returns all five starters from last season and Purdue brings back four of five, plus could-have-started Emily Heikes. Both teams are looking to get key contributions from their freshmen this season. Purdue's Katie Gearlds and Erin Lawless are big-time sure things; K-State's Twiggy McIntyre, Shanda Murdoch and Claire Coggins are less known nationally but are expected to be a huge help to the Wildcats.

    K-State coach Deb Patterson said, "By and large, you can go into the game knowing what to expect from the first five players both teams put on the floor. The difference-makers may actually be the young players.''

  • Purdue and K-State were seeded to meet in the NCAA Sweet 16 the past two years, but it didn't happen either time. The Boilermakers were upset at home in the second round in 2002; the same thing happened to the Wildcats in 2003.

  • In the "everyone says they're overlooked, but the true fans love them to pieces'' category: Purdue's Heikes, Texas' Kala Bowers and K-State's Megan Mahoney.

  • This is either cool ... or proof of too much time spent looking at media guides. The following players were all born on the 13th day of the month: Purdue's Lindsey Hicks (December) and Beth Jones (January); K-State's Mahoney (February), Nicole Ohlde (March) and Laurie Koehn (May); and Texas' Jana Jespersen (November).

  • While we're in the birth department, what are the odds three All-America caliber players would be born within a 15-month period in the same northern-Kansas area? It happened: Purdue's Shereka Wright (Fort Riley, September 1981) and K-State's Ohlde (Clay Center, March '82) and Kendra Wecker (Marysville, December '82).

    Here's a "Was it predestination?'' fun fact: Ohlde was born on the very day the Kansas State women's program played its first NCAA Tournament game.

    So there they are ... four teams that all have dreams of ending the season in New Orleans. Duke and Texas are among the front-runners for that trip, of course, having made the Final Four last season.

    Purdue as a program has showed very recently (1999, 2001) that it can go that far. Kansas State justifiably faces far more skeptics, but -- other than in their freeze-up, freak-out loss to Notre Dame last March -- few would ever say the Wildcats aren't a blast to watch.

    "We're excited just to be a part of this event,'' Patterson said. "Everyone who loves women's basketball will be tuning into these two games.''

    Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

    Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.
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