Connie Kunzmann, professional basketball player, is dead, a homicide, the cruelest shock yet for a league struggling to survive.

A 6-foot-1 athlete out of Everly, Iowa, in the heartland of girls basketball mania, and Wayne State (Neb.) College, Connie Kunzmann of the Women's Basketball League's Nebraska Wranglers was last seen by friends and teammates at Tiger Tom's Bar in Omaha at 1 a.m. Saturday. She was celebrating her best showing of the WBL season, 19 points and 10 rebounds against Dallas, after averaging only three points a game as a second-stringer for the Wranglers, Central Division leaders by 6 1/2 games with a 16-4 record. She was seen leaving with a man she knew.

At last report divers were searching the frigid Missouri River for her body.

Omaha police said Kunzmann, 24, and Lance Tibke, 25, a nuclear power plant employe she had dated, "left the bar together, went to Dodge Park. Some kind of altercation occurred. She was hit, possibly with a tire iron, and then possibly stabbed, and then thrown into the river." Tibke turned himself in yesterday and was charged with second-degree murder.

In the Women's Basketball League, teams fold in a hurry; remember the Washington Metros? the Iowa Cornets, with whom Kunzman began? Players -- stars and borderlines -- are traded between surviving teams seemingly at whim, hardly staying long enough to become acquainted. Not so with Kunzmann, who since November had roomed with former all-Americas Genia Beasley and Holly Warlick. All the Wrangler players issued a statement through the WBL office in New York:

"We . . . are deeply hurt . . . Connie was more than our teammate. She was . . . family. Her loss is felt more deeply than one we work with. It is felt as one we love and live with. . . Her memory will remain with us forever. Her life will become ours. We will live and play as Connie would have, as Connie would want us to do."