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Jaime Diaz
April 06, 1987
The Lady Vols were the belles of the NCAA ball
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April 06, 1987

A Tennessee Waltz

The Lady Vols were the belles of the NCAA ball

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Long Beach broke its pregame huddle with the cry, "Kick ass!" But on the opening tip, Brown got knocked on her derriere by 170-pound Kathy Spinks, and the 49ers soon found themselves in a half-court game with a Tennesssee team that seemed to anticipate their every move. "We knew their plays the second they called them out," said Gordon. "We even knew that when Toler goes between her legs with the ball, she is going to shoot, no matter what. She probably doesn't even know that."

The 49ers shot just 39% from the floor, while Gordon and Edwards, who each had 21, hit clutch baskets down the stretch. "They were busting at the end," said Toler. "There was nothing you could do." Brown scored 27 points but had trouble getting open at crucial moments. "The physical aspect of the game was ridiculous," said Brown. "There were a lot of cheap shots. I thought, You may be big and thick, but I'm skinny and quick. Of course, I'd bump, too, with corn-fed chicks like that."

Indeed, Summitt decided two years ago that she couldn't win it all without stronger and more explosive athletes than the ones she had become accustomed to recruiting. For inside punch, she got Gordon, a 6-foot sophomore forward who is nicknamed Miss T because of the gold chains she favors off the court. This season she landed the 5'10" Edwards, who's known as Ice T for the way she hits her jumper under pressure.

Tennessee proved it had talent when it snapped Texas' 40-game winning streak in Austin in December. After the Lady Longhorns avenged the loss three weeks later in Miami, Tennessee's play began to deteriorate, until the Vols dropped five of six games. In desperation Summitt benched four starters. "I didn't realize how much pressure they were feeling," she said. "I finally said, 'I don't expect you to win the national championship. I don't expect you to be in Austin. Let's just take one game at a time.' That's when we came together."

The win over Long Beach inspired more confidence. Not until then did Summitt think she had the athletes to match up with Louisiana Tech. When Barmore said he expected a "backstreet brawl," Summitt warned, "Hey, we fed 'em corn at midnight."

Actually, Summitt watched films until 3 a.m. on Friday. "When I went to bed," she said, "it was the first time that I felt I knew their offensive system."

Although nearly 6,000 no-shows meant the aisles were clear for the crowd of 9,823 at Sunday's final, Louisiana Tech's passing lanes were jammed. Gordon repeatedly took away the post from Tech forward Nora Lewis, and the Vol centers bumped Harrison out of her shooting groove. When Weatherspoon, finally showing fatigue after her 40-minute effort against Texas, missed a wide-open layup with the scored tied at 19-19, Tennessee went on a 10-0 run. After that, Tech was taken so completely out of its offense that it twice went more than six minutes without a field goal.

"If I had been watching on TV, I probably would have turned it off," said Tech assistant Jennifer White. "It was not a pretty game. We feel real bad because some people who saw that game might say women can't play."

Not Summitt. "This tournament was testimony that X's and O's do work," she said. "Even when you have the great athletes, you still have to have the execution." The witnesses just wish it could have been faster.

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