Five aces

This one caused a ruckus.

Unlike last season when ESPN.com's columnists had a fairly easy time agreeing on the nation's top five players, there was a bit more debate this time around (especially when it came to a certain high-scoring Lady Lion from the Big Ten, who was just edged out by another Big Ten stud). Well, actually, a lot more.

While we all agreed that Alana Beard and Diana Taurasi should be repeat selections on ESPN.com's fourth-annual preseason All-America team, nine other players were considered for the final three spots. And Nancy Lieberman is probably still shaking her head about our decision to omit that Lady Lion.

A look at our final picks for the best five players (listed alphabetically, with last season's stats; Beard is a three-time honoree; Taurasi and Stanford's Nicole Powell were selected for the second consecutive season).

Alana Beard, Duke
Senior, G/F, 5-11, Shreveport, La. (Southwood)

2003 Kodak All-American, unanimous AP first team All-American, ESPN.com national player of year, NCAA Midwest Regional MVP; just second player in men's and women's school history to top 2,000 points; owns Duke single-season points record (813); 13 career double-doubles; scored at least 20 points in 49 games.

"Best defender in nation by far." -- Nancy Lieberman
"Fearsome on-ball defender, great penetrator and wants so badly to win." -- Mechelle Voepel

Nicole Ohlde, Kansas State
Senior, C, 6-5, Clay Center, Kan. (Clay Center)

2003 AP first-team All-American, Big 12 player of year; only Wildcat to tally 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 blocks in a career; 33 career double-doubles, including 15 as a junior; scored at least 20 points in 36 games; K-State's all-time shot block leader (151) and eight points shy of career scoring mark.

"Great post who also has a Magic Johnson-like skill of delivering the ball." -- Nancy Lieberman
"Variety of moves, really strong post passer and, wow, can this big girl handle the ball." -- Mechelle Voepel

Nicole Powell, Stanford
Senior, F, 6-2, Phoenix, Ariz. (Mountain Pointe)

2003 Kodak All-American, AP second-team All-American; first in Stanford history in career rebounds per game (9.1), third in points (16.3), sixth in total assists (450), eighth in 3-pointers (143); six triple-doubles and 30 double-doubles in in 88 games.

"Will be one of the top three picks in April's WNBA draft." -- Nancy Lieberman
"Great instincts and has carried such a big load for Stanford. Most underrated talent is her rebounding." -- Mechelle Voepel

Diana Taurasi, Connecticut
Senior, G/F, 6-0, Chino, Calif. (Don Lugo)

2003 Wade Trophy winner, Naismith player of year, Kodak All-American, Final Four MOP; 54 points at Final Four fourth-highest total in history; averaged 26.2 points in '03 NCAA Tournament, including career-high 35 in second round; 590 points short of tying all-time UConn scoring record.

"There is no better go-to player in the world. Pro players are envious of her confidence." -- Nancy Lieberman
"Can do everything on the court and brings everybody else along with her." -- Mechelle Voepel

Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota
Senior, G, 5-0, Hutchinson, Minn. (Hutchinson)

2003 Kodak All-American, AP second-team All-American; only Naismith finalist last season to rank among nation's top 20 in scoring and assists; needs 366 points to tie school career scoring record (2,097); scored in double figures in 82 of 86 games; scored at least 25 points in 23 games, 30 points in eight games.

"Can get her shot off on anyone, anytime." -- Nancy Lieberman
"A creative player and dynamic scorer who can make quick adjustments." -- Mechelle Voepel

Honorable mention: Kelly Mazzante, Penn State; Seimone Augustus, LSU; Chandi Jones, Houston; Kendra Wecker, Kansas State

ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman, ESPN.com columnist Mechelle Voepel and Melanie Jackson, who coordinates ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage, contributed to the selection process.