Friday, March 21, 2003

Coach's intensity bringing out best in rookie Boothe

Freshman forward fulfilling potential for the Musketeers

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Xavier freshman Tara Boothe during team drills at the Cintas Center on Tuesday.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
Every now and then during practice, Xavier freshman Tara Boothe has thrown a bad pass or failed to come up with a rebound.

And, it seems, her coach, Kevin McGuff, never misses one of her missteps.

"He's like: 'Get that. Don't do that.' He doesn't let you get away with something the one time you don't do it," Boothe said.

Said McGuff: "I'm probably as hard on her as anybody on this team because she has so much to gain. She's extremely talented, and she has a bright, bright future."

Her present is pretty bright, too.

Thanks to her work ethic and talent and McGuff's constant pushing and coaching, Boothe has emerged as one of the big reasons the Xavier women's basketball team earned an NCAA Tournament berth.

The 20-9 Musketeers will play at about 9:30 p.m. Sunday in Lubbock, Texas, against UC Santa Barbara (26-4). Xavier is a No. 10 seed, UCSB a seven.

Boothe, a 6-foot-1 forward from Highlands High School and Fort Thomas, was the Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year and third-team A-10.

She was Xavier's leading rebounder (7.9 rpg), second in scoring (16 ppg) and third in minutes played (33.9). Boothe also set a conference record by winning 11 rookie-of-the-week citations.

What her statistics don't reveal directly is how her presence inside opened up the perimeter for XU's outstanding senior guards, Amy Waugh and Reetta Piipari.

"Tara, in my judgment, was the one ingredient they were missing in 2001," said Joe McKeown, the George Washington women's coach.

Xavier lost star inside players Jennifer Phillips and Taru Tuukkanen from the 2000-01 team that made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

More from McKeown: "(Boothe) had a chance to play one-on-one on the inside because of the guards."

No wonder he's impressed.

In XU's 94-92 four-overtime victory against GW on Feb. 9, Boothe had a career-high 31 points and 19 rebounds.

She was remarkably consistent for a freshman, scoring in double figures in 28 of 29 games and grabbing six or more rebounds in 23 games. Boothe, Waugh and Piipari each played all 60 minutes of the GW game, which Boothe said was the highlight of her freshman season.

Boothe's 463 points are a record for a Xavier freshman, and her 229 rebounds were just five shy of another first-year program record.

"They have to play inside because she can score," Piipari said of Boothe. "Or then, they have to guard us, so they can't double on us. She brings scoring balance."

The Musketeers, 12-19 in 2001-02, finished the regular season 20-9 and in second place in the A-10 West.

"I didn't expect all this," Boothe said this week after a Cintas Center practice. "I expected us to do well as a team, but I wasn't expecting individually to do this well.

"Our team, I knew we were going to be good. I didn't know how good. So this is exciting to go this far."

Boothe was one of five players to start all 29 games for XU. Besides seniors Waugh and Piipari, the other starters were freshman Kristy Wallner and sophomore Alexis Henderson.

"I can see the difference in my game. College basketball is a lot faster," Boothe said. "I've adjusted to the game. And Amy and Reetta have been there to help me and push me and keep me focused on every possession that we have."

Boothe impressed just about everybody who watched.

"(Tara Boothe) is just so smooth in there," said Megan Keating of the Atlantic 10 Network. "She's the type of young woman who fights through anything that comes her way."

And this from "We knew the backcourt was this good, but how about Tara?"



Xavier women vs. UC Santa Barbara

When: About 9:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lubbock, Texas

Seeds: XU - 10; UCSB - 7

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