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Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kendra Wecker was Nicole Ohlde's fiercest rival in high school. Today, she's one of Ohlde's biggest fans.

And her roommate.

"Once we got down to college,'' Wecker said Saturday, "it was like, 'Alright, no more issues that we might have had with each other.' ''

Those issues, as Wecker put it, went "out the window'' when the two became teammates at Kansas State.

They've turned the bitterness of their high-school feud into a strong friendship and an equally powerful duo for the Wildcats (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP), who open the women's NCAA Tournament in the Mideast Region on Sunday against Valparaiso.

The play of Ohlde and Wecker, both National Player of the Year and All-America candidates, was a prime reason the Wildcats earned a No. 2 seed, the highest in school history. Both averaged 17 points per game this season (Wecker was slightly better at 17.2). Ohlde was named the Big 12's Player of the Year and both were selected to the All-Big 12 first team.

It doesn't stop with Ohlde and Wecker _ junior guard Laurie Koehn averaged 13.9 points this season and has 1,319 career points; junior swingman Megan Mahoney added 10.2 points per game and is 10 points away from breaking the 1,000 mark for her career.

"We can hurt a team in many different ways,'' Ohlde said.

Add the motivation to redeem themselves after last year's heartbreaking second-round loss to Notre Dame on their home floor, and the Wildcats look pretty scary.

"I've watched about half of K-State's season,'' Crusaders coach Keith Freeman said. "They have good and great players.''

The 15th-seeded Crusaders, who are riding a five-game winning streak, have depth, too. A rash of injuries kept them from jelling at times, but 10 players are averaging at least 7 points a game.

"The best thing about this team is how it has handled injuries,'' Freeman said.

It'll take that balanced offense and an even stronger defense to slow Kansas State's "Big Four.''

Most of the spotlight this year has been on Ohlde, who led Kansas State's turnaround from a team that won only two conference games in 2000-01 to one of the nation's top 10 teams.

Ohlde, a senior who had her No. 3 jersey retired earlier this month, is Kansas State's all-time leader in scoring (2,193) and rebounding (985). But Wecker, a junior, isn't far behind in the praise or the record books. She's third on the all-time scoring list with 1,701 points and tied for fourth on the rebounding charts with 779.

Which means she has a good chance of surpassing Ohlde's scoring mark next year. It'll just be another friendly competition the two can joke about.

Wecker said they'll still give each other a hard time about their high-school days in the North Central Kansas League, when Ohlde played for Clay Center and Wecker played for Marysville. The two teams met three times for the state title.

"We won two out of the three years, I have a little upper edge on her,'' Wecker said with a laugh. "She gives me a hard time about the time they beat us.''

Wecker said the two competed so hard that they actually disliked each other for a while.

"You know how rivalries are, you always want to be better,'' Wecker said. "If you get beat, there's some bitterness.''

Bitterness, but there was also the mutual respect that helped make them good friends.

"The athletic ability that she possesses is just phenomenal,'' said Ohlde, who'll likely be on a WNBA roster next season. "I think I'll remember her blowing by me a few times.''

Both are glad they don't have to play against each other anymore.

"We were always in the same league in high school. Every sport that we played in, we competed against each other. Volleyball, softball, basketball. I was like, 'She's never going to go away,' '' Wecker said.

This year, Wecker wishes Ohlde was staying.



EAST
1 Penn State
2 Connecticut
3 Houston
4 North Carolina
5 Notre Dame
6 Colorado
7 Auburn
8 Virginia Tech
9 Iowa
10 North Carolina State
11 UC Santa Barbara
12 Southwest Missouri State
13 Middle Tennessee
14 UW-Green Bay
15 Penn
16 Hampton
MIDEAST
1 Duke
2 Kansas State
3 Boston College
4 Texas Tech
5 Louisiana Tech
6 Ohio State
7 Minnesota
8 Old Dominion
9 Marquette
10 UCLA
11 West Virginia
12 Montana
13 Maine
14 Eastern Michigan
15 Valparaiso
16 Northwestern State
WEST
1 Texas
2 Purdue
3 Georgia
4 LSU
5 Miami
6 TCU
7 Villanova
8 Michigan State
9 Arizona
10 Mississippi
11 Temple
12 Maryland
13 Austin Peay
14 Liberty
15 St. Francis (Pa.)
16 Southern
MIDWEST
1 Tennessee
2 Vanderbilt
3 Oklahoma
4 Baylor
5 Florida
6 Stanford
7 Rutgers
8 George Washington
9 DePaul
10 Chattanooga
11 Missouri
12 New Mexico
13 Loyola Marymount
14 Marist
15 Lipscomb
16 Colgate