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On the night of Jan. 29, moments after Oregon had become the 14th consecutive victim of Southern California's women's basketball team, Duck Coach Elwin Heiny propped himself up against a wall outside the losers' locker room. A small group of reporters had gathered to hear him assess his team's 86-64 defeat and the damage USC's 6'3" Ebony Bookends, identical twins Paula and Pam McGee, had wrought. Let's see: 46 points, 32 rebounds, combined 57.1% shooting with only two of their 20 baskets coming from farther than four feet. "All I can say about the McGee twins is that they're awesome," said Heiny. Indeed, the twins alone had outrebounded the taller Ducks 32-30, including a 17-10 advantage on the offensive boards. "It was their second effort that really made the difference," Heiny continued. "Both of them are incredible."
A few hours before, during his team's afternoon shoot-around in a chilly Los Angeles Sports Arena, Heiny had discussed the strategy that few teams have been able to implement—though many have tried—this season against the Trojans. "To stop USC you have to stop the McGees," he said. "You have to have help on them; you can't match up with them one-on-one. Two 6'3" players with their agility and strength on the same team—you just don't find that too often."
Indeed, no women's team has a pair of performers who can match the McGees for sheer athletic ability. Each stretches 170 exquisitely proportioned pounds across her frame. Each is blessed with sprinter's speed and yet has the strength to overpower most opponents. Off the court the McGees are stylish, elegant and free of the self-consciousness that causes many tall women to slouch or forgo wearing high-heeled shoes. "For my part I think that being a woman is something to be enjoyed," says Paula. "When I'm not playing, it's time to be a lady."
On the court the McGees, sophomores from Flint, Mich., are anything but ladylike. Last season, Paula, playing out of position at center, and Pam, coming off the bench, led Southern Cal to a 26-8 record and its first appearance in the AIAW Final Four. This year, with both of them in the starting lineup, the Trojans had won all 18 of their games through Sunday, were the only unbeaten college team—male or female—in the country, and were ranked second in the AP poll.
Following last week's 79-58 victory over Arizona, Paula, who's now playing her natural forward spot, was averaging 20.5 points and 10.7 rebounds, and Pam had responded to her new role as a starting center by scoring 20.7 points and getting 11.7 rebounds a game. She was also shooting a team-high 58% from the field.
Basketball fans aren't the only ones who have taken note of the McGees. In the March 1981 issue of New West magazine, Pam and Paula were featured in a photo essay celebrating the physical splendor of the female athlete. Helmut Newton, the fashion photographer who shot the essay, was so impressed by the twins that he asked to have his picture taken with them at the end of the session.
When Jet magazine put the twins on the May 7, 1981 cover, the McGees received a series of phone calls from somewhat different kinds of admirers. "This guy called me up and introduced himself," says Pam. " 'Hi, my name is Rod and I'm from the Land of the Angels. I saw y'all in the Jet, and I think y'all just some beautiful people.' Then I got a call from another guy who asked me to call him back, and when I did, all I got was silence."
From the moment Real People began taping a segment on the McGees in the spring of 1981—it hasn't run yet—field producer Danny Gomez knew he had a hit, literally. While shooting in the twins' dorm room, Gomez persuaded them to pull out the two pairs of five-ounce boxing gloves Pam had brought from Flint to use in settling arguments or just working out frustration. "They swung hard and they swung for the face," says Gomez. "Any one of those punches would have put me down."
"Mom said that when we left home there'd be nobody to referee," Pam says. "So I went to the store and picked the gloves up." Says her sister, "Pam fights to kill."
But Gomez, like his executive producer, George Schlatter, the creator of Laugh-In, also saw a "show business quality" in the McGees. "They're naturals," Gomez says. "They're tall, beautiful women. And they've got more on the ball than your average college athlete. They've got ambitions that go way beyond college."