Beard makes preseason team for third time

Geno Auriemma has a very simple way of explaining the difference
between Connecticut and its challengers in women's basketball:

"We have Diana and they don't," the coach says.

At Duke, coach Gail Goestenkors says without hesitation: "I
think Alana raises the level of play of our entire team every
single day."

Of course, they are talking about Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard,
for whom being designated an All-American is becoming as
commonplace as high-top sneakers.

The two seniors were unanimous selections Tuesday for The
Associated Press' preseason All-America team.

Their names appeared on all 47 ballots from the national media
panel voting in the weekly AP poll. Also chosen were Kansas State's
Nicole Ohlde (34 votes), Penn State's Kelly Mazzante (28) and
Stanford's Nicole Powell (25).

Beard, a 5-foot-11 guard, made the preseason team for the third
time, Taurasi, a 6-foot guard, for the second. Beard also was
unanimous a year ago, and both were unanimous postseason
All-Americans last spring.

Taurasi was the AP's player of the year last season and led a
Connecticut team that relied heavily on freshmen to its second
consecutive national championship.

"If we win another national championship this year, Diana
Taurasi's arguably the greatest college player of all time,"
Auriemma said.

During last year's NCAA tournament, she always seemed to come
through when it counted with what the Huskies needed most: a
3-pointer, a pass threaded through the defense to an open teammate
or a steal.

Taurasi averaged 17.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists last
season. But during the tournament, she really turned up the heat,
raising her scoring average to 26.2. She finished with 26 points
against Texas in the semifinals and 28 against Tennessee in the
title game.

"It's nice to be considered among the top players in the
country," Taurasi said. "But nothing counts until the season is

Right now, she says, "I'm psyched. You don't get another senior

Beard joined Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings
as the only three-time selections on the preseason team, which
began in 1994.

The smooth left-hander can break down opponents with her fierce
defense as well as her shooting and passing. She led Duke to its
second straight Final Four appearance last season, averaging 22
points and 6.9 rebounds and shooting 52.7 percent.

Goestenkors wants Beard to improve in only one area: be more of
a vocal leader.

"I think that's important for us," Goestenkors said.
"Sometimes last year she held her tongue a little bit with some of
her teammates. She never wants to hurt anybody's feelings."

Beard hopes she and the other seniors can help the Blue Devils
reach a goal that has eluded them: the national championship.

"We know what it takes to get there and we know how much it
hurts not making our goal the past two seasons," she said. "We
will do everything needed not to feel that way to close out our

Ohlde, a 6-foot-5 senior, has become a dominant post player
during Kansas State's rise to national prominence and was a
first-team All-American last season. She averaged 18.4 points and
nine rebounds in helping the Wildcats win a school-record 29 games.

"I am really looking forward to the season and seeing what we
can accomplish as a team," Ohlde said. "There are a lot of great
players out there, so I definitely feel very honored to be named to
the team."

Mazzante, a 6-foot senior, was fifth nationally in scoring last
season at 23.9 points a game. With 2,238 points, she's on track to
become the Big Ten's career leader. Ohio State's Katie Smith leads
now with 2,578 points.

Powell, a 6-2 senior, was a preseason All-American a year ago,
then missed the first nine games because of back problems. But she
returned to form quickly and averaged 18.8 points and 9.3 rebounds
in leading Stanford to the Pac-10 championship.

"Our team has been working really hard at practice," Powell
said. "I think that with the efforts that we have already made,
it's the right time for this year to be something special."