April 02, 2005

LSU player, Michigan State coach win AP awards

INDIANAPOLIS - Seimone Augustus used to play all the sports -- soccer, golf, volleyball, you name it. Once she got her hands on a basketball, though, she was hooked.

``I constantly dribbled and dribbled, everywhere I went,'' the LSU star said.

And that led Augustus to her overwhelming selection Saturday as The Associated Press national player of the year, the award coming on the eve of her team's appearance in the Final Four.

Joanne P. McCallie, who got Michigan State into the Final Four for the first time, was named the coach of the year.

Augustus has helped lift an already-strong LSU program to an even higher level. She led the Lady Tigers to their first Final Four last season, and they rolled to the regular-season Southeastern Conference championship this year with a 14-0 record.

LSU spent 11 weeks at No. 1, longer than any other team, and was seeded No. 1 overall in the NCAA tournament. Last month, Augustus was the only unanimous pick on The AP All-America team.

``I'm very glad I'm receiving these awards, but it means even more that my team is a success,'' Augustus said. ``Coming to the Final Four means much more than just being the college player of the year. If you're not successful as a team, you still have doubts in your mind.''

There can be no doubting her talent, however. With her pull-up jumper and fadeaway, the 6-foot-1 junior has what's regarded as the best mid-range game in the country. At coach Pokey Chatman's urging, she has gotten stronger and more aggressive going to the basket and drawing fouls, a smart move considering she makes 87.4 percent of her free throws.

Augustus is averaging 20.1 points and shooting 54.7 percent from the field. She has scored in double figures in 61 straight games and had a career-high 33 last November in a victory over Baylor, the team LSU plays Sunday night.

So how do you stop her?

``You just have to say a lot of prayers,'' Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson said. ``You have to hope that she either gets in foul trouble or misses a lot of shots, because I'm not sure anyone has stopped her yet.''

Augustus received 39 of 45 votes from the national media panel that selects the Top 25 teams in The AP poll. Kansas State's Kendra Wecker and LSU's Temeka Johnson each received two votes, while Notre Dame's Jacqueline Batteast and Ohio State's Jessica Davenport both had one.

McCallie, in her fifth season at Michigan State (31-3), has guided the Spartans to a school record for victories, a share of the Big Ten regular-season title and the conference tournament championship. She received 18 votes, Mulkey-Robertson was next with eight and Chatman received seven.

``It's truly an honor for me, my family, my staff, for Michigan State -- all the wonderful people who have helped me try to develop things,'' McCallie said. ``It's hard to fathom all that input.''

McCallie started her coaching career as an assistant to Joe Ciampi at Auburn, which went to the Final Four twice when she was there. She had six NCAA tournament teams in eight seasons at Maine before moving to Michigan State in 2000.

``The thing about coaching is that players do what they believe and not what they're told, and Joanne does a great job of developing a belief in her system and the type of defensive philosophy she has,'' Ciampi said.

``It's a defense with adjustments and her players buy into that system and trust her to make the right adjustments. She has developed into a great game coach, which is what it takes to have success in the NCAA tournament -- that and some luck.''

McCallie was confident this could be a special season after the Spartans went 22-9 a year ago. The biggest hurdle was a difficult schedule.

``You just never know what's going to happen because we had so many tough opponents,'' she said. ``But to see them continue to rise to the occasion in very adverse circumstances, it's been almost overwhelming at times to see it, to feel it, to be a part of it with them.''

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