When top-ranked Louisiana Tech goes after its second straight national women's basketball championship Sunday at noon (WDVM-TV-9), the Maryland team will be watching from the stands instead of warming up on the floor.
The Terrapins lost Friday's semifinal to Cheyney State, 76-66, in a game Maryland Coach Chris Weller called "just average."
Although Cheyney started the game somewhat shakily, making less than 36 percent of its field goals instead of its usual 50 percent, the Wolves' tough zone defense stymied the running game that is Maryland's strength.
Cheyney stole the ball 12 times, which a subdued Weller referred to as "a drastic breakdown in our game. What can I tell you? We like to be able to run, and they just wouldn't let us."
Maryland was in the game throughout the first half, staying within two points most of the period and preventing Cheyney's top scorer, Val Walker, from becoming a factor. Walker was held to two baskets in 10 attempts.
But Cheyney, a trifle star-struck at its first whirl in the final four, took charge in the second half.
"We're used to being able to spray our shots all over," said Cheyney Coach Vivian Stringer. "But tonight we just had to lump them together. We still knew our shots were good."
Walker made up for her earlier poor showing by finishing with 20 points. Maryland's usually reliable Jasmina Perazic managed only 10 points.
Only once did the the Terrapins come within a point of Cheyney; halfway through the second period, Debbie Lytle's layup made the score 49-48. But Cheyney scored eight straight and Maryland never recovered.
"I think that was the turning point of the game," Weller said. "It was my failure to call a timeout before that lead puffed up. I gambled, and we paid dearly, I'm afraid. We had been in a zone and we needed a break. I don't think we played poorly, but in spots we did."
Unable to penetrate the Cheyney zone, Maryland watched the clock run out on its chances at a title. The Terrapins also reached the final four four years ago, losing to UCLA in the championship game.
Weller refused to predict the outcome of the final, saying, "I don't like to speculate on a game publicly." However, she added, "Tech is a good man (man-to-man defense) team, and Cheyney is more of a zone. They're going to have to stop Tech's inside game, and keep them from getting any isolation going."
Tech easily defeated Tennessee, 69-46, in the first semfinal. Even so, Tech coaches Leon Barmore and Sonja Hogg looked worried when discussing the championship game.
When asked why he was concerned about Cheyney, Barmore deadpanned, "They may be better than we are."
"That's always a major concern at this point in the year," added Hogg.
Tech won the AIAW championship last year, with an undefeated 34-0 team. Sunday's winner will be the first women's NCAA basketball champion.
Barmore and Hogg lavished compliments on the Cheyney team, which once-beaten Tech has not yet faced. Barmore called the club "one of the best-coached women's teams I've ever seen. When it's time to be disciplined, they are. Too many people have said Cheyney is just not organized enough. But they rebound, press, do everything that we do well. At no time do you see them get frustrated and complain."
Cheyney, with a 28-2 record, has been described as a mirror image of Tech. "We're so similar in style and poise," said Stringer. "In watching them against Tennessee, I saw their offensive patterns, and I know we didn't copy them and they didn't copy us." Stringer says her team is counting on the fact that Tech may be unable to adjust quickly to multiple zones. She's also encouraging her "thin-as-a-rail players to stand as wide as possible against those big, strong Techsters."
Hogg cautioned that Cheyney is much like Tech four years ago, when the Louisiana team "came from nowhere" into the final four. "A new team, coming in as an unknown, an underdog, will always come on strong," she said. "But even now, after we've proven ourselves, we still fight an identity crisis. People still call us Louisiana State."