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At one end of the court, Louisiana Tech's Janice Lawrence—the 6'3" Mississippi Marvel, perhaps the nation's best woman center—was sinking deft bank shots off the glass. Teammate Jennifer White was looping in arching 20-foot jumpers as if shooting over a pine grove back home in Rascaltown, Tenn. At the other end of the floor, Southern California's phenomenal freshman, Cheryl Miller, was rebounding, shooting, stealing, scrapping and shot-blocking. Her team's Twin Towers, 6'3" juniors Pam and Paula McGee, were looming before Tech like a city skyline. And so, with 6:20 left in last Sunday's NCAA women's basketball final at the Scope in Norfolk, Va., the top-ranked Lady Techsters and the No. 2-rated Women of Troy were in a whale of a battle, tied 59-59. "Finally women's basketball has a genuine championship game," Tech publicist Keith Prince had said. "Every year in the past it seems there's been one great team and no one else even close."
For the last two seasons, Louisiana Tech had been that team, easily winning national titles. And despite the loss of two first-team All-Americas from last year's champs, the Lady Techsters had rolled to a 31-1 record this season, winning by an average of 26.4 points per game. As Georgia Coach Andy Landers said, "They beat good teams bad."
Going into Sunday's final, having blown out Old Dominion 71-55 in the semifinals on Friday, Tech had won 30 games in a row and 100 of its last 102. But in two regular-season games against USC, the Techsters had gotten only a split, losing 64-58 at home on Dec. 4 and then winning 58-56 in Costa Mesa, Calif. on Jan. 22. That hinted at trouble. "I think they should be scared after that last one," said Center Pam McGee on Saturday. "Our whole team played terribly and we still only lost by two." And Southern Cal had shown itself ready for the NCAA finals by steamrolling Georgia 81-57 in the semis.
For the first half on Sunday, however, the Women of Troy were in trouble, courtesy of White's uncanny outside touch—5 for 5 from outer Tidewater—and Lawrence's inside scoring: 17 points. "Off the glass, Janice rates with Sam Jones or anybody else, ever, man or woman," says Tech Co-Head Coach Leon Barmore. Tech's defense, meanwhile, was forcing USC into hurried shots and turnovers. The Lady Techsters opened a 13-point lead at one point and, at halftime, were ahead 37-26.
Southern Cal wasn't rattled. The tournament's most talented, spectacular club, the Women of Troy were also its most confident. "Someone said the only team that could beat 'SC is 'SC, and I think that's true," Paula McGee said. It was no fluke that the Trojans had entered the game with a 30-2 record. At halftime they looked to a sign they had made up during the season: USCOPE, it read. "USC-Scope, USC-cope," said Coach Linda Sharp. USC would cope in the second half by using a press. "We hadn't run one all year," said Sharp later, adding, "We hadn't been down by 11 points all year, either."
Sharp, a 32-year-old former American literature teacher in her sixth year of coaching at USC, had brought the tournament's youngest starting team to Norfolk—two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors. But four of the five are current or future first-team All-Americas, and last week their youth showed up as insouciance, not jitters. At a Thursday press conference Pam McGee casually bobbed her head to the beat of a Walk man even while fielding reporters' questions. After noticing the other three teams' intense attitude toward her sport, she said, "I can't believe they think basketball is that important." Miller and the twins spent part of that afternoon clowning their way through a TV spot about the Kodak All-America team.
"Don't strut your lip like that," Paula said to her sister. "Ask me a question so I can bring you down."
"Pam, you're supposed to say, 'I is,' " said Cheryl, taking the mike. "Now, you be twins?"
"How tall you be?" snapped Pam.
"You all better hope no tape be on," said Paula.