Nothing short of cancellation could have prevented the Texas women's basketball team from winning the NCAA championship today. Southern California's four-time all-America Cheryl Miller, playing in her final college game and going after her third title, couldn't.
The top-ranked Longhorns (34-0) played an almost perfect 40 minutes in becoming the first team to go through a season unbeaten in the five-year history of the NCAA women's championship. They went deep into their talented bench, shot 58 percent from the floor and held Miller, who got her fourth foul with 16 minutes remaining, to 16 points. The result was a 97-81 victory, before only 5,662 at Rupp Arena.
"We don't have a Cheryl Miller," said Texas Coach Jody Conradt, whose title is her team's first although it has the best winning percentage over the last three years. "But how this team has learned to play together is significant. I think this team would compare with any great team in women's college basketball history ."
Although Texas is a predominantly senior team, the Longhorns once again looked to a freshman for their edge. Forward Clarissa Davis, who delighted the crowd with her moves around the basket, scored 32 points in the semifinals Friday and got 24 points and 14 rebounds today to earn the most valuable player award.
"She has three years to do a lot of things for women's college basketball," said USC Coach Linda Sharp. "There's not a better sixth player in the country."
"The world didn't know Clarissa Davis until she got here," said Conradt. "If it had not been for her, we wouldn't have won this tournament."
But Davis wasn't the only one. The Longhorns' reserves outscored USC's, 58-4. Senior center Cara Priddy played a critical role, scoring 15 points and stifling USC with her defense. Yulonda Wimbish had 10 points and Gay Hemphill eight. None started.
"When they needed things to happen," said Sharp, "Cara Priddy came in. We just didn't get from our bench what Texas got from theirs. As we progressed through the game, fatigue was a factor."
Cynthia Cooper scored 18 of her team-high 27 points in the second half for the Women of Troy (31-5), but many of them came too late.
Too late perhaps began when Miller committed her fourth foul with 15:55 left in the game. USC missed Miller's leadership the next four minutes, until she returned at 11:49.
Shortly before Miller went out with her fourth personal, the Longhorns had extended a 10-point halftime lead to 54-42 with an 8-2 run the first 2:04 of the second half.
When Fran Harris (14 points) pulled up and made a short jumper with 14:20 to play, the Longhorns led, 68-52, and USC called time. And after Davis made a layup for a 64-46 lead, Sharp sat her team down again.
A minute later, Miller reentered and USC began to move the ball quickly up the court. It closed to 70-61 when Miller grabbed a rebound, dribbled up the middle and passed to Cooper, who made a layup and was fouled by Harris.
USC had a chance to move within seven points, but the Longhorns converted a three-point play of their own. After Harris and Andrea Lloyd missed shots, the ball rolled to Wimbish, who made a layup and was fouled by Cooper.
"That was when a little of the air was let out of us," said Cooper.
What little air the Trojans had left was gone when Miller reached in and fouled Wimbish with 7:30 left. Miller didn't want to leave, looking down at the court while kneeling on one leg. After Texas all-America guard Kamie Ethridge patted her on the back, she stood up and walked to the bench.
"Considering that it wasn't one of my better games, and you wait until the championship game to be off, yes I'm disappointed," said Miller.
"I think she was a little frustrated because she didn't get the ball when she wanted it," said Cooper. "She had to work for her shots."
In the first half, Miller seemed to be playing without her usual tenacity, yet she scored 16 points despite making only two of eight shots from the floor. She ended two of 11.
Indeed, the Longhorns frustrated Miller and the Women of Troy, particularly near the end of the first half. USC led, 30-29, with 5:29 left, but the Longhorns scored 10 consecutive points -- six by Priddy -- and USC got no closer than seven thereafter.
"It's hard to identify individuals, but you have to start with Cara Priddy," said Conradt. "Yesterday, I heard Cara say that everyone was talking about Miller's last game. Cara reminded everyone, 'Hey, I'm a senior, too.' "