Those who doubt that women coaches can be master strategists didn't catch Marianne Stanley's act Sunday in the final of the NCAA women's basketball tournament in Austin, Texas. During a time-out the Old Dominion coach hurriedly designed one of her pet "junk defenses" and that proved to be the turning point of the Lady Monarchs' game with Georgia. Was it a box-and-one? Matchup? Triangle-and-two? Diamond? Nobody knew except Stanley. She also zone-pressed to protect a lead down the stretch. She wheedled double-figure minutes out of eight players, all the while giving it the old body English, grimacing, waving and shouting with all the verve of a Lou Carnesecca.
In short, she just plain coached a national championship out of a gang that couldn't shoot straight, beating the Lady Bulldogs 70-65 despite a 38.2% performance from the floor.
"I have no gurus or anything like that," says Stanley, who will probably coach the American junior national team and can be penciled in as a strong 1988 Olympic coaching candidate. "I just pick up what I can as I go along from both men and women at clinics. Women can coach this game, you know."
And women can rebound the hell out of this game, too. Particularly Stanley's women. In Austin, the Lady Monarchs went to the glass more often than champagne at a French wedding reception, grabbing an incredible 47 offensive rebounds in two games and turning 18 of them into field goals, 12 in the finale to embarrass a Georgia team that should've been their rebounding equal. The chairwoman of the boards was long-armed forward Tracy Claxton, the tournament MVP, who had 37 rebounds, including 12 offensive boards on Sunday. With 17 points against Georgia, she finished her collegiate career with 1,999.
Still, even as the women players get better and their coaches become more committed, the sport's vital signs remain shaky. Only 7,648 fans showed up at Texas's Erwin Center for Friday's semis, 7,597 for the Sunday final. The crowd would've been much larger had a strong Texas team made the Final Four. Ticket sales at the finalists' schools totaled a whopping 101.
"Well, it's a long way for somebody to come from Athens, Georgia," said Bulldog athletic director Vince Dooley, diplomatically avoiding the fact that air traffic above Athens would be thick with chartered jets were his football team playing at Texas. And Old Dominion had drawn only 3,086 to its home gym, almost 2,000 below capacity, for its 72-68 victory over Ohio State in the East Regional showdown the week before.
"I guess maybe there's a bit of complacency, everyone just expecting us to win," said Stanley, whose record is 236-33.
She gets full marks for spunk. The NCAA championship is ODU's first, but the Lady Monarchs won AIWA national titles in 1979 and '80 and a women's NIT title in '78, Stanley's first season. Only 30 years old, she has appeared in eight national championship games, four as a guard on Immaculata's teams from 1973-76, one as an assistant at her alma mater and three as ODU's head coach. Her Monarchs lost in the national semis in both '81 and '83. Remember that John Wooden coached 14 years at UCLA before he even made a Final Four. All day, all night, it's Marianne winning basketball games.
ODU wasn't even a strong favorite in its semifinal against Northeast Louisiana University of Monroe, a Cinderella team that had found the spotlight in its own little corner of the world with a decisive 85-76 victory over Louisiana Tech, located 25 miles away in Ruston, in the Midwest Regional final. The Lady Indians brought to Austin 1,000 of their war-whooping faithful (it's an eight-hour drive), as well as Eun Jung Lee, known in women's basketball as the "Korean Magic Johnson."
Lee was recruited for the price of a postage stamp, according to the Lady Indians' folksy coach, Linda Harper—and became NLU's first Kodak All-America this season. "I could tell my parents about it," says Lee, "but they would say, 'What is a Kodak?' " And what's an Eun Jung Lee? A 5'6" junior point guard who shoots a peculiar two-handed overhead shot, a la Richie Guerin or other such ancients, and who leaps in the air on every possession with no knowledge of where her pass is going until she looks off the defense at least once and pump-fakes at least twice. "It was strange, very strange," says ODU All-America forward Medina Dixon of the Seoul Train's style. It was also ineffective once Stanley ordered the Monarchs into a 1-3-1 that forced NLU's big people, 6'3" Lisa Ingram and 6'4" freshman sensation Chana Perry, away from the basket, and once ODU started pounding the offensive boards—its "sugar and cream" in Harper's words. The Indians shot a woeful nine of 35 (25.7%) in the second half and ODU won 57-47.