When all else fails, the University of Maryland women's basketball team goes to its full-court zone press. Rutgers had won 49 straight games at home when Maryland, down a dozen points, slapped the press on. Before Rutgers could figure a way through the maze of scrambling defenders, Maryland stole a 69-66 victory. So last night, down 10 points with 13 minutes to go, Maryland Coach Chris Weller ordered up another press.
Only one problem. This time Rutgers wasn't the hospitable host. Instead, Louisiana Tech was a most bothersome guest. The nation's No. 1 team, so good it kept the top spot in the ratings despite a weekend loss that ended its 54-game winning streak, simply ran through the Maryland press. All failed this time for Maryland, a 73-56 loser.
"The press wasn't so scrappy tonight," said Maryland guard Debbie Lytle. "We were not as intense as we should have been."
Beg to differ here. This was not a case of Maryland's scrappiness or intensity or any of those coaching words. Louisiana Tech is a better basketball team. Period. A reporter who caught Lytle dashing from the locker room afterward--she must have got enough of going slow as a child, because she is a perpetual motion machine now--may not have been far wrong when he prefaced a question to her with a description of Tech as "the best team ever put together."
"Well," said Lytle, a loyalist as well as an intense scrapper, "we think they're good, but we think we're good, too. We didn't have any attitude about them. We went into the game with a neutral attitude."
Attitude may not have mattered last night.
Tech's four inside players scored 48 points and had 22 rebounds. Two are 6 feet 2, one is 6-3 and the other is an all-America center 6 feet tall. Meanwhile, Maryland's three inside people, none taller than 6-1 in a game where an inch can mean dominance, had 32 points and 17 rebounds.
Louisiana Tech's two-season winning streak, started with 34 victories last year that earned the national championship, ended Friday night at Old Dominion. On 70 shots that night, Tech made only 23 while Old Dominion became the first team in 107 games to shoot 50 percent against the Techsters.
Those numbers were reversed last night, with Tech doing the good work and Maryland the poor. Why?
"There's a little difference," Leon Barmore, Tech's associate head coach, said wryly, "in shooting over Maryland at 6-1 and Old Dominion at 6-8 and 6-5."
Barmore had on his Serious Coach face. He leaned against a hallway corridor. He spoke in a half-mutter into a radio man's microphone. Back home in Ruston, La., folks would search the coach's remarks for hidden meanings. The Techsters are a big deal.
There's a five-station Tech radio network broadcasting every game into five states. KNOE-TV of Monroe, La., sent a cameraman to Cole Field House to fetch back moving pictures of the Techsters for the coach's TV show this Saturday night. Next year, the Techsters will play in a new 8,000-seat arena in Ruston, a city of 20,000 people.
"We were concerned at halftime," said Barmore, whose team held a 36-27 halftime lead and seemed a certain winner. Twice of late, it seems, Louisiana Tech owned halftime leads and frittered them away early in the second half. Of such misdeeds are 54-game winning streaks ended.
"So we were determined not to come out and lose the lead, but build on it," he said.
The lead yet was only 10 points with 13 minutes to play.
That's when Maryland's Coach Weller recognized the situation as serious, if not desperate.
No stratagem had bothered Tech much. Whether it be Maryland's man-to-man defense, its half-court trap, its 1-2-2 or 2-3 zone, Tech had an answer for it all. When Tech's inside people had trouble getting the ball, the outside shooters took over. Maryland's 14-9 lead became a 17-14 deficit when Tech made four straight 17-foot jump shots.
As Tech's offense came alive, Barmore made a defensive change that stopped Maryland. Instead of Tech's customary pestiferous man to man, which Maryland was beating at will, the coach ordered up a zone that forced Maryland outside.
"They won with the zone," Weller would say later.
So, beaten inside and out, down 10 points with 13 minutes left, her offense largely neutralized, Weller made a battlefield decision. She went to her last weapon, the full-court zone press.
Tech's ball-handlers were too good to be bothered by it, and the lead was still 10 points with just under eight minutes to go. If Maryland was to follow its upset of No. 3 Rutgers with a victory over the No. 1 team, it needed now to take advantage of Tech's weariness. After all, the Techsters were on the eighth day and fourth game of a road trip through South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland.
"We are very tired," said the all-America center, Pam Kelly. "But we didn't play tired. We did what we had to do."
Their big inside people--Janice Lawrence, Debra Rodman and Kelly --scored three straight field goals for a 64-48 lead.
Tech was too good inside, too good outside. "That's why they're the No. 1 team in the country," Weller said.
Somebody asked the coach if she thought the sitting-on-its-hands crowd failed to inspire her Terrapins. Usually, only the next of kin and the closest of friends come to these games. The crowds number in the tens. Last night the Maryland publicity people estimated an attendance of 2,200, by far the largest of the season. Many of the 2,200 seemed mute.
"We're not used to playing with much crowd support, anyway," Weller said. "So that wasn't a factor."