Southern California freshman Cheryl Miller showed today why she was the most heavily recruited women's basketball player ever, scoring 27 points to rally the Trojans to a 69-67 victory over two-time national champion Louisiana Tech for the NCAA title at the Scope.
USC trailed, 37-26, at intermission and was still behind, 50-42, with 12 minutes to play, when it began its comeback, using a press for the first timne this season.
"We didn't have a transition game in the first half and we had to do something to create our tempo," USC Coach Linda Sharp said. "I thought if we created our tempo, our quickness would get us back in it.
"I think we really surprised them with it and we did a good job of getting them to turn the ball over and rush shots. It was so effective we stayed with it."
The Techsters had succeeded in getting the ball to Janet Lawrence in the first half for 17 of her 20 points. Meanwhile, their sagging defense cut off USC's McGee twins, especially Pam, who didn't score for the first 28 minutes. But when USC finally took the game out of the quarter court, the Trojans were back in it.
Miller scored twice inside and Cynthia Cooper made a 12-footer to bring Southern Cal within 50-49 with 9:55 to play. Paula McGee tied the game at 55 with 7:10 left with her second layup in 10 seconds.
Lawrence sat down with four fouls with 6:20 remaining, and Miller's 15-footer gave USC its first lead, 61-59, 35 seconds later.
The lead went to 68-63 when Pam McGee made two layups with three minutes left, but it was back to two points, 69-67, within a minute on Jennifer White's 18-foot jumper. Freshman point guard Rhonda Windham of USC fouled out on a charging call on the ensuing inbounds pass, but Miller, an all-America, blocked Tia Sossamon's shot.
Time was running out on USC's final possession when Kim Mulkey knocked the ball away. Mulkey drove down court but was called for charging into Cooper with nine seconds left. Although Cooper missed the free throw, Tech was unable to get off a last shot.
"It's a very bitter loss for us," said Leon Barmore, Louisiana Tech's co-coach. "It's not very often you get a chance to win three straight national titles.
"I thought the charge on Mulkey was a bad call. On the final play, the rebounder (Debra Rodman) held the ball too long. If she had gotten it out quicker, Mulkey would have gotten the shot we wanted."
The first few minutes were played at Louisiana Tech's controlled half-court pace. White, who averages just six points, made four base line jumpers to give the Techsters a 14-6 lead seven minutes into the game. Miller scored USC's first eight points, but White (18 points on eight-of-nine shooting) and Lawrence extended Tech's lead to 24-14 with nine minutes left in the half.
USC narrowed the deficit to 24-18 a minute later, but could get no closer and trailed by 11 at the half.
Once the Trojans changed the tempo in the second half, though, their shooting improved, from 42.3 percent (11 of 26) to 58.6 percent (17 of 29). Paula McGee recovered from her slow start to finish with 17 points.
"It was an outstanding team effort by a very special team that believes in one another," Sharp said. "Cheryl Miller was the catalyst all season. She plays beyond her years."
Miller, whose high school team won four straight California state titles, said, "We didn't play hard in the first half. We played their game. I had never been behind before in a title game and this time I get a ring."
And with the entire Trojan team, except substitute Kathy Doyle, returning next year, Miller may get another.