Top-ranked Louisiana Tech, whose associate coach immodestly describes his team as the best in the history of women's college basketball, outscored second-ranked Cheyney State, 20-4, at the end of the first half and went on to a 76-62 victory in the first NCAA women's championship today.
The Techsters (35-1), who won the AIAW championship last season, changed offensive strategy after trailing early and got Cheyney State's two big players into early foul trouble before a sellout crowd of 9,531 at the Scope.
"This is the best team to play the game," said Leon Barmore, Tech's associate head coach. "I didn't think so before, but after winning two in a row I think this is a better team than Old Dominion." He was referring to the Old Dominion teams that Nancy Lieberman led to AIAW championships in 1979-80.
"I'll tell you what we were shooting for. At Delta State they have a sign up that says, 'Champions 74, 75, 76.' Well, you have to win two to even get close to those people. Now we can talk."
Tech, confused by Cheyney State's multiple zones, had trouble early in the first half getting the ball inside to 6-foot center Pam Kelly and 6-3 forward Janice Lawrence, the tournament's most outstanding player. So Barmore switched from a double low-post offense to a single high-post and replaced Kelly with 6-2 Debra Rodman.
Rodman gave the Techsters better rebounding and the change in strategy helped Lawrence score 12 of her 20 points in the final 10 minutes of the half.
After Cheyney State (28-3) had taken a 16-8 lead after eight minutes, the Techsters outscored Cheyney, 32-10, the remainder of the half, as Valerie Walker and Debra Walker, the Wolves' best inside player, each committed three fouls.
Cheyney State had taken an early lead, scoring on eight of its first 11 possessions.
After Debra Walker, a 5-10 forward, scored on a layup seven minutes into the game for a 16-8 lead for the Wolves, Tech called time. It changed its offensive strategy and also came out pressing, playing tough man-to-man defense the rest of the half. Cheyney missed 13 of its last 15 shots in the half.
"On that first timeout, we told them not to worry about the score, to just play 40 minutes of basketball," said Barmore. "We brought Rodman in for the offensive rebounds that we weren't getting."
Said Cheyney Coach Vivian Stringer: "In that dry spell, both Walkers were out with foul trouble and . . . when our big people are in trouble, we're in trouble. Valerie and Debra Walker are our keys, and they had to play tentatively. In effect, the fouls did dictate the way we had to play. They dictated the defense and offense."
With six minutes remaining in the half, Kim Mulkey, Tech's 5-4 point guard, drove the lane, getting past players nearly a foot taller and made the basket for a 24-22 lead. It was Tech's first lead since it scored the first point of the game.
Following a basket by Kelly and a turnover by Cheyney, Mulkey found Lawrence near the basket for a layup and a 28-22 lead. Mulkey scored again, and Lawrence's steal and basket on the next play gave the Techsters a 32-22 lead with four minutes remaining.
Lawrence scored on each of Tech's next three possessions for a 38-24 lead.
Cheyney shot 38 percent in the first half to Tech's 54 percent. Cheyney finished the game at 43 percent; Tech shot 56 percent.
"Cold spells are typical of us. I was hoping the cold spell would forget to come, but it did and Tech reeled off a bunch of points," said Stringer.