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Other Colleges Women’s Basketball Notebook: Portland passes cracker test and gets two quality recruits

Monday, January 28, 2002

By Paul Zeise, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Penn State Coach Rene Portland has finally revealed her secret in luring hotshot freshmen Jess Strom and Tanisha Wright to the program.


Or more specifically, her ability to beat them in their cracker challenge.

Read on.

During a recent Nittany Lions road trip, Portland was challenged to eat six saltine crackers -- without taking a drink -- in a minute.

According to an article in the Centre Daily Times, the challenge stems from to a recruiting trip Portland paid to Wright and Strom. At the home visit, the players’ AAU basketball coach brought up the cracker challenge.

“I tried it first and it was funny,” Wright told the newspaper. “Then Rene tried it and she actually got it.”

Portland, who will not give away her secret, is willing to rest on those laurels.

“I’m not doing it a second time,” she said with a laugh. “It’s like climbing Mount Nittany. I did that once, too.

“I don’t know how I did it. It’s amazing what you’ll do for recruiting. Obviously, there’s a competitor in an old coach to say that ‘I can do this.’ If I can do childbirth three times, six crackers can’t be that hard. I might try it again in the quietness of my home with no witnesses to see if I can do it a second time. Hey, if it’s the reason I got these two, I’m glad I did it.”

Strom, a Steel Valley High School graduate, and West Mifflin’s Wright already have had an impact on the team.

Strom, a point guard, has started every game for the Lions and is averaging 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. She leads the Big Ten in assists (6.95 per game) and ranks sixth nationally. She also is first in the conference in free-throw percentage (.849) and second in 3-point percentage (.442).

Wright, who plays shooting guard and small forward, struggled to adjust to the college game early in the season but seems to have hit her stride. She has started 15 of the team’s 21 games, including 13 of the past 14, and is averaging 7.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

In the team’s past three games (before yesterday’s upset of No. 9 Wisconsin) Wright started to show flashes of the talent that made her a Parade All-American in high school. Against Michigan (Jan.13), she had 17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals. She followed with a 16-point, 9-rebound, 4-assist performance against Michigan State and then 14 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal against Northwestern.

It has been awhile

Usually a win against Quinnipiac isn’t reason enough for fans to rush the court to celebrate.

Unless that win is the team’s first in more than a year.

Robert Morris University beat Quinnipiac, 85-64, Thursday at the Sewall Center to snap a 31-game losing streak. The Colonials had not won a game since beating Samford, 63-54, Dec. 30, 2000.

The win was also the team’s first home win since Dec. 2, 2000, and first Northeastern Conference victory since Feb. 24, 2000.

“Obviously, there is a big relief for all of us,” said Robert Morris Coach Lynn Roman.

Minnesota woes

The Minnesota men’s program under Clem Haskins had been the poster child for academic fraud and cheating. In October 2000, the Gophers were placed on probation by the NCAA for a number of major violations. And now the Gophers’ women’s program under former coach Cheryl Littlejohn also has been accused of numerous violations.

Last week, the NCAA sent a letter to university president Mark Yudof summarizing its findings after a six-month investigation into allegations that Littlejohn, who was fired in May, paid players, engaged in unauthorized practices and scrimmages and interfered with the university’s investigation into other alleged violations.

In the letter, the NCAA said it found evidence of major violations by Littlejohn and cited a lack of appropriate institutional control for a period of nearly three years starting in 1999. The NCAA also warned that the women’s violations, combined with the violations in the men’s program, could mean the university is in the class of “repeat violators” and therefore would be subject to stiffer penalties under the “repeat violator rule.”

If found to be a repeat violator, the women’s program could receive the “death penalty” and be shut down for two seasons or face the elimination of scholarships and severe limitations on recruiting activities. The school said the repeat violators rule should not apply to the women’s program because the violations occurred before the men’s program was placed on probation. Officials will argue their case at a hearing in front of the NCAA Infractions Committee in April.

And while the university and the program suffer the consequences -- the person responsible, Littlejohn, has already left without being punished and is the head coach at Chicago State. She left the Gophers after a 29-81 record in four years.

All of this bad news couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Gophers, who, under new coach Brenda Oldfield, are enjoying their best season in 20 years. The Gophers (15-4, 5-3), who defeated Indiana yesterday, are in the Top 25 -- No. 23 -- for the first time since 1982. The Gophers have not had a winning season since 1993-94.

More probation

Southern California Coach Chris Gobrecht was reprimanded and has been placed on probation by the Pacific-10 for the remainder of the year for her conduct during and after the team’s 67-57 win Jan. 13 against UCLA.

Gobrecht had several outbursts and charged the officials with incompetence and UCLA players with being cheap-shot artists. Then, after a scuffle which ended with two players getting ejected, she got in the face of an official and had to be separated from a confrontation with UCLA Coach Kathy Oliver. After being ejected, Gobrecht yelled at the UCLA bench and taunted the Bruins’ crowd by pointing to the scoreboard.

How do you say?

Imagine being the public address announcer at George Washington and having to pronounce some of the names of the players on that roster. The team’s starting center is Ugo Oha (pronounced OO-go O-hah) and one of its starting forwards is Elena Vishniakova (uh-Lay-na vish-Neye-uh-Coh-va). The team also has players named Demetria (duh-ME-tree-uh) Tipps, Marsheik (mar-ShEEK) Witherspoon, Greeba Outen-Barlow and Anna Montanana.

Stats and stuff

Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer posted her 650th career win Wednesday when the Scarlet Knights beat Seton Hall. She has a 650-211 record. ... Connecticut leads the country in scoring offense (89.8 ppg) and scoring margin (38.1) but doesn’t have a single player among the Top 50 scorers in the country. ... Angie Welles, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, became the all-time leading scorer at Iowa State. She scored 18 points in the team’s win Saturday and has 1,868 points. She broke Megan Taylor’s record of 1,866 set from 1997-2001. ... Two coaches, East Carolina’s Dee Stokes and North Carolina-Ashville’s Kathleen Weber, have resigned in the past week. Stokes’ resignation is effective immediately; Weber will finish the season.

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