Small school, big tradition
Louisiana Tech draws a crowd in small town of Ruston
Posted: Thursday March 25, 1999 09:06 PM
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- It says something that, in a town of some 20,000 citizens, more than 8,000 would show up to watch the Louisiana Tech women's basketball team play Tennessee.
That's what happened in Ruston, La., on Nov. 30 when the Lady Techsters took the court against the Lady Vols. Even though Tennessee won 92-73, it didn't dampen the small-town pride in a team that is a perennial big-time contender.
Louisiana Tech doesn't have the profile of a Duke, Connecticut or Tennessee. It is a school of just 9,667 students in a tiny rural town where alcohol isn't sold and there's no shopping mall.
Yet Louisiana Tech has something many schools envy: Tradition.
There are those old-fashioned short-sleeved jerseys, distinguished alumnae like Teresa Weatherspoon and Venus Lacy, and the fact coach Leon Barmore is a native son. But mostly Louisiana Tech's tradition is based on its success.
The Lady Techsters have been to the Final Four 10 times in the 18 years the NCAA has governed the event. They won the national championship in 1982 and 1988.
"I'm just glad I am a part of that," senior forward Amanda Wilson said. "It's a great honor. ... And I want to keep that tradition going so that the people who come after me say, 'I want to do what Amanda Wilson did.'"
Wilson has certainly done her share. She's led the Lady Techsters (30-2) with 16.5 points and eight rebounds per game.
Wilson credits Barmore not only for her achievements but for everything Louisiana Tech has become. His 87.0 winning percentage, based on a career record of 489-73, is the best in college basketball, men's or women's.
Barmore's teams are known for speed, defense and athleticism. Despite the evolution in the women's game over the years, Barmore's teams have consistently stayed ahead of the curve.
"I think in the early years when I started there were two teams that played defense: It was the University of Tennessee and it was Louisiana Tech," he said. "I didn't see anybody else in the game guarding anything."
In their final game of this season, the Lady Techsters beat New Orleans 97-57 for their 700th victory as a program -- becoming just the second women's Division I team to do so. Louisiana Tech is 706-119 in 25 years.
Tennessee (788-203) is the only other team with as many victories.
After going 12-0 in the Sun Belt Conference this season, the Lady Techsters cruised through the first rounds of the NCAA tournament, eventually beating UCLA 88-62 to advance to the Final Four. They'll play top-ranked Purdue in a semifinal game Friday night.
There's no doubt that the hometown fans will be watching. Women's basketball is king in Ruston. In addition to attracting nearly half the town's population for the November game against Tennessee, the women's basketball program has accomplished the rare feat of overshadowing the men.
There's a story that former Louisiana Tech player Karl Malone used to beg fans to stick around in the days when the women's games were played before the men's.
Barmore says that Louisiana Tech's success is a combination of the players, the school, the rabid fans, that ever-present tradition and those small-town values of hard work and faith. He wouldn't have it any other way.
"It [Ruston] is made up of churches and parking meters and we have those two things more than anything else," he said. "But what would you rather have? Too many churches or too many bars? I'll tell you what, I'll take what we have."
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