Huff Hall was buzzing with activity Thursday as Duke, Drake and DePaul set foot on the basketball court for the first time for practice.
And the atmosphere at Huff, where Illinois has gone 10-0 this season, is a little different, said Illini forward Katie Coleman.
"The NCAA has got a lot of rules," Coleman said. "There's all these set times to shoot and practice. There's police officers by the locker rooms."
Illinois coach Theresa Grentz said hosting the regional is a two-way street.
"The players are in their regular confines, but also they may have more distractions," Grentz said. "They're in the dorm rooms and everyone's excited about it. It's a constant reminder.
"When I was a player, we were always at the farthest, most aloof hotel. I just hope and pray they're doing what they're supposed to. I think one lies and the others all swear to it."
Blue Devil returns home
Duke's Kira Orr already was used to the trip to Illinois.
The Blue Devils senior was born in Carbondale and lived there until age 6. Orr, Duke's top scorer, moved to Poolesville, Md., where she became the all-time leading scorer for The Bullis School.
Orr never really left her hometown behind.
"I come back almost every summer," Orr said. "I've got a lot of family here. Technically, this is home."
Orr's coach, Gail Goestenkors, made a few trips to Champaign when she was an assistant at Purdue from 1986-92. Because the games were then played at Assembly Hall, she'd never been to Huff Hall. On Friday, the fifth-year Duke coach got a good look, sort of, at Huff.
"When we came in I asked to please turn on the lights," Goestenkors said. "And they said they already had."
Drake rings one up on state rival
Had Iowa answered the phone as soon as it rang, Tammi Blackstone might now be a Hawkeye. Drake coach Lisa Bluder says the story that's been circulating about her prized freshman center is indeed true.
Blackstone, then a heavily recruited senior at Cherokee (Iowa) High, put in a call to the Iowa staff to say she would sign with the Hawkeyes. But after hearing the phone ringing on the other end, Blackstone had second thoughts and quickly hung up.
"When the phone rang, she knew it wasn't the right thing to do and called us," a grateful Bluder said.
UI once had eyes for Drake coach
Speaking of phone calls, Illinois associate athletic director Karol Kahrs put in at least one call to Bluder when the UI was looking to fill the coaching job that eventually went to Grentz.
"We just talked on the phone one or two times, and it never went any further," Bluder said of the UI's coaching search in the spring of 1995.
Bluder was coming off a 25-6 season that included an NCAA tournament appearance and a runner-up finish in the Missouri Valley Conference. Bluder said she hadn't applied for the job and, when she didn't hear back from the UI, didn't pursue the matter.
"They got a great coach," Bluder said.
Ex-Boilers decide to Duke it out
Duke has two former Purdue players in its program, but you won't see either at Huff Hall this weekend. Center Michele VanGorp and guard Nicole Erickson were among a handful of veterans who left when Purdue decided not to retain coach Lin Dunn after last season.
Under NCAA transfer rules, each is sitting out this season and will be eligible to resume their careers in 1997-98. VanGorp, a 6-foot-6 junior from Macomb, Mich., was a Parade Magazine second-team All-American as a prep senior. Erickson, a 5-6 junior from Fullerton, Calif., was a Parade third-teamer the same year.
The last time Erickson played at Huff Hall, on Feb. 18, 1996, she shot 5 of 6 from three-point range and tied for the team lead in scoring with 17 points. Purdue defeated Illinois that day 82-77.
Ex-Illini has inside-outside scoop
Former Illini center Jonelle Polk McCloud can give her alma mater a pretty thorough scouting report on Drake. Polk is an assistant coach at Bradley, which played fellow Missouri Valley member Drake twice this season.
"Drake has a great inside-outside punch with Tammi Blackstone in the middle," Polk said. "We emphasized doubling down (defensively) on her with a guard. But if you do that, she can kick it out to Kiersten Miller, who's one of the best three-point shooters in the country.
"It should be a good matchup. I don't think Drake has seen that much height," Polk added, referring to Illinois.
Bradley went 0-2 against Drake but pushed the Bulldogs to the limit in the second meeting, falling 91-90 at Peoria.
A party of one for NU's Perrelli
After Northwestern was ousted from the Big Ten Conference tournament after one game, coach Don Perrelli made the case that his 17-10 Wildcats still were deserving of an NCAA berth.
But the veteran coach may have feared the worst because he didn't gather his team together last Sunday to watch the pairings announcement on television. Instead, he watched alone at home ... and ended up having a party of one when the good news flashed across the screen.
"I saw it, and at first I didn't really react to it," Perrelli said. "Then I started to jump up and down, all by myself."
Northwestern, which tied for fourth in the Big Ten during the regular season, received a No. 12 seed and will open Saturday against fifth-seeded George Washington in the East Regionals in Washington, D.C.
It's the Wildcats' first NCAA bid since 1993, when they beat Georgia Tech and then lost to Tennessee.
Plenty of points to go around
DePaul's Mfon Udoka, Kim Williams and Kris Booker all broke the 1,000-point mark for career scoring this season. Williams got there the fastest, hitting the milestone in 48 games.
They join four other players in the sub-regional – Illinois' Ashley Berggren, Duke's Orr and Tyish Hall and Drake's Kiersten Miller – in the 1,000-point club. Williams leads the group with 25.2 points a game this year and a 21.5 average for her career. The junior Berggren is next with 18.3 point a night in 1996-97 and 18.0 for her three years.