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CU’s Coach Barry Predicts Return to NCAA Tourney

Last year###s edition of Colorado Buffalo basketball was heralded for its commitment to teamwork as well as its exciting and experienced backcourt. That senior-dominated squad led CU from 15-14 as freshmen and 10-19 as sophomores to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2001 and 2002, including an Elite Eight bid last season.

This season, the theme will switch to the frontcourt, where the bulk of CU###s returning minutes and experience return to guide the Buffs in 2002-03. This group of players will look to maintain CU###s return to dominance on the basketball floor, as the junior and senior class this season seeks a place of their own in the annals of CU basketball.

"I expect a return to the NCAA Tournament," says coach Ceal Barry, entering her 20th season at the helm of the Buffs. "Having received one of the predetermined sites, that will be incentive for us to have a good record and to play at home. By January, we should be a team that competes to be one of the top four teams in the Big 12. I think that by March, we###ll be a team that can compete for a Sweet 16 berth, but I don###t know that we will be in November. I think that###s a reasonable expectation for this team assuming we don###t have injuries. Injuries are going to be key. We don###t have the depth we had last year."

Before looking ahead to next season, how will the Buffs deal with the graduation of four starters, most notably guard tandem of Mandy Nightingale and Jenny Roulier, two All-Big 12 players?

"It doesn###t bother me when we lose seniors," said Barry. "They had great careers, and I feel good about them just like those before them. They had great careers that ended on a high note, but I###m looking forward to this group."

"The big question is going to be our guard play," said Barry. "I think everybody knows Kate Fagan can shoot from the outside. We###re going to need to develop Maria Billingsley, Veronica Johns-Richardson and Syreeta Stafford and that###s going to be really our focus is getting our guards to be confident and scoring."

"I think a big key is going to be Syreeta Stafford," Barry said. "She###s going to be a key. We###re going to need some leadership. We need someone to replace Mandy Nightingale###s leadership. We###ve got some choices of Linda Lappe, Syreeta, Veronica and Maria, but I hope to not do it by committee. I hope to put someone in charge and just let them go."

Colorado###s strengths will undoubtedly change. The Buffs, who led the Big 12 in conference games in both team offense and team defense, did both of those things playing a mostly halfcourt game. This year, Colorado will still run their halfcourt sets in the triangle offense with accuracy and consistency, but the Buffs will be running more than in recent years. The returning guards Stafford, Fagan and Johns-Richardson bring a different element to the game than Roulier and Nightingale.

Fagan, while perhaps not as quick as Roulier a year ago, is deadly accurate from three-point range after shooting 47.6% from beyond the arc to lead the Big 12. She brings similar size to the lineup, and Barry expects Fagan to improve in her quickness as well as her shot-creating ability.

Stafford backed up Nightingale for much of last season, and is a much different player than Nightingale was. She will undoubtedly be the quickest player CU has on the floor, and has better slashing ability and will be tougher for opponents to contain with her ballhandling skills and jaw-dropping finishing ability in traffic.

The same could be said for Johns-Richardson, however the 5-9 guard has more height than Stafford, and her moves in the paint made her a crowd favorite in her limited playing time last season at both the shooting guard and small forward positions. Once VJ is more settled into the Buffs tricky triangle offense, her productivity will increase. She###s more athletic than her predecessors, and that fact will mean more adjustments defensively for Buff opponents.

With nine letterwinners but just one starter (Scott) returning from last year, there will be battles for starting roles this season. Depth was one of CU###s biggest strengths last season, but it remains to be seen how much of a factor it will be this season with a whole slew of players who have been biding their time waiting for the class of 2002 to graduate. With eight returners who didn###t start on a regular basis in 2002 combining with four newcomers, the lineup looks wide open.

In terms of newcomers, the Buffs bring five this season, with four of those ready to suit up and play starting this fall. CU will have two true freshmen this fall, Melissa Hobbs and Amber Metoyer. Both are forwards, and both have impressive high school credentials.

"Melissa###s skilled," said Barry. "She can shoot, she can pass, she###s got a good sense for the game. Her speed and her strength isn###t Big 12 level yet, but right now she is a high school player. I think she can be a player that can score from the outside for us, I think she###ll be solid. She will improve a lot from start to finish. Our forwards are pretty deep right now, but I think Melissa has the opportunity."

Metoyer is one of the more impressive athletes to enter CU, as the Buff frosh will not only don the black and gold for Barry###s basketball squad, but also for the CU track & field team.

"Amber has the body type and the conditioning," said Ba