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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, April 6, 1987
JUST WHEN WOMEN'S BASKETBALL WAS SURE IT HAD choreographed a bunch of sleek moves for its NCAA Final Four in Austin last week, center stage was seized by a stout-legged ensemble that engaged in a curious blend of slam dancing and The Tennessee Waltz. As hoops aesthetes turned away in droves, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers slowly but surely dismantled the Lady Techsters of Louisiana Tech. The only thing agreeable about Tennessee's 67-44 victory on March 29 was that it gave coach Pat Head Summitt her first national championship after eight visits to the Final Four.
Summitt had lost 11 of 12 games to Tech, including three in Final Fours. But number 13 proved lucky for Tennessee, which got that many points from each of three players—forward Bridgette Gordon, center Sheila Frost and freshman guard Tonya Edwards, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
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's 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 74-64 win over Long Beach in the semifinal inspired more confidence. Not until then did Summitt think she had the athletes to match up with Louisiana Tech. When Tech coach Leon 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 Vols' centers bumped Tori Harrison out of her shooting groove.
"If I had been watching on TV, I probably would have turned it off," said Tech assistant Jennifer White. "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.