Members of the Maryland women's basketball team, winners of the West Regional and bound for the NCAA final four, arrived at Dulles Airport from California yesterday and were greeted by one person: their bus driver. The Terrapins will have an even less pleasant arrival in Norfolk this weekend when they are greeted by three teams that have beaten them in the regular season.
Third-ranked Old Dominion, AIAW national champion in 1979-80, is hosting the first NCAA women's basketball tournament, but isn't participating. The Monarchs, upset by Kansas State in the East Regional, will be on the sidelines while top-ranked Louisiana Tech, last year's AIAW champion, attempts to win the NCAA.
"Louisiana Tech is the most talented team in women's basketball. They are a definite favorite to win the title," said Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt, whose team (22-9) meets the Techsters (33-1) in one semifinal at 9 p.m. Friday.
The No. 7 Terrapins (25-6) will play No. 2 Cheyney State (27-2) Friday at 7 p.m. in the other semifinal. The final is set for Sunday noon.
This is the first time since 1978 that Maryland is in the final four of a national tournament. That year, Maryland lost in the AIAW final to UCLA, 90-74. This year many of the top 20 teams switched their affiliation from the AIAW to the NCAA.
A look at the final four:
Maryland: The Terrapins beat Drake, 89-78, for the West Regional championship last weekend, qualifying them for the tournament. Maryland is one of the quickest teams in the country and the only team in the final four whose best offense is the fast break. Maryland's fast break is helped by the perimeter shooting of 6-foot-1 guard Jasmina Perazic, 5-8 guard Marcia Richardson and 5-10 senior forward Myra Waters.
Debbie Lytle, a 5-10 forward, leads the teams in assists. Backing up Lytle is 6-1 center Belinda Pearman and 6-1 forward Lydia McAliley.
Maryland has meshed as a team only recently. At the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in late February, which Maryland won for the fourth time in five years, the Terrapins began to play what Coach Chris Weller calls "Maryland basketball"--playing to their potential.
Maryland's main weakness is lack of depth. Weller has relied on six players all season and rarely substitutes. The Terrapins also may have trouble at center. Pearman has been playing well lately, but will to play much better against Sharon Taylor, Cheyney State's 6-5 center, for the Terrapins to win.
The Terrapins have had trouble with all the teams here. Maryland played poorly in a 67-51 loss to Cheyney State in the regular season. Against Tennessee, Maryland lost, 70-62. After Old Dominion broke Louisiana Tech's 54-game winning streak, the Techsters came back the next game with a 73-56 win over the Terrapins.
"When we played Maryland, it was one of our best games this year," said Leon Barmore, associate coach at Louisiana Tech. "I said then that Maryland was one of the better teams in the country and they proved me true. I think they are going to give Cheyney State an awfully good game and may even beat them."
Cheyney State: Cheyney State has won 27 of 29 games on defense. Valerie Walker, a Wade Trophy (national most valuable player) finalist and a 6-1 senior forward, leads the team with a 21.8 scoring average. Walker says the Wolves' tight defense allows the offense to flow.
Walker missed the last four games of the regular season with a sprained right ankle but was healthy for the East Regional, where she was named the outstanding player.
Cheyney State advanced to the final four by beating Kansas State, 93-71, in the East Regional.
Wolves Coach Vivian Stringer missed two months earlier this season when her infant daughter had spinal meningitis. Last weekend, Stringer's daughter developed pneumonia. Stringer says her daughter is improving and will make the trip to Norfolk. "We will try to do the things that brought us to this point," said Stringer.
Backing up Walker are 5-9 sophomore guard Rosetta Gilford (15.7 average), 5-10 sophomore guard Yolanda Laney (13.2), Taylor (9.6) and 5-10 junior forward Deborah Walker.
Tennessee: Midway through the season, the Volunteers were 8-8 and out of the top 20 for the first time ever. The Volunteers, embarrassed by a loss to Rutgers, rallied for 11 straight victories and a regular-season 19-9 record. "That's what makes this year so exciting: at that point no one dreamed we would have a strong record, no less be a final four contender," said Summitt.
Tennessee advanced to the final four by beating Southern California, 91-90, in overtime in the Mideast Regional championship. Last year the Volunteers lost to Louisiana Tech in the final.
Mary Ostrowski, a 6-2 forward, leads Tennessee with 14.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, and Tanya Haave, a 6-2 sophomore forward, averages 13.3 points and seven rebounds. Haave is a member of the U.S. junior national team and played at the National Sports Festival. Rounding out the roster: 6-1 sophomore center Paula Towns (14.2, 7.9), 5-7 guard Shelia Collins (14.3 points) and 5-9 point guard Lea Henry.
Louisiana Tech: The Techsters defeated Kentucky, 82-60, in the Midwest Regional final.
They have every player back from last year's championship team, including a strong front line of 5-foot-8 forward Pam Kelly (20.4 points), 6-3 center Janice Lawrence (14.3) and 5-foot-8 forward Angela Turner (11).
Tech's strength is its depth at each position. Weller has said that Tech's second team probably could start for any other team in the country.
"It would be quite an honor for us to win," said Barmore. "We have been a great team for a couple of years but we've only won it (the championship) once. I don't feel like we can go down a winner unless we match it twice. We want to be national champions two years in a row."