Bernadette Locke has been hired at Kentucky, the first female full-fledged assistant coach for a Division I men's basketball program.

"We are extremely excited to have someone of Bernadette Locke's qualifications . . . " Coach Rick Pitino said after Athletic Director C.M. Newton's announcement yesterday.

Pitino said Locke's duties will include on-court coaching and recruiting, with special emphasis on career placement. Pitino earlier drew criticism from some who said Locke would be limited to clerical work and be mainly a publicity gimmick.

Locke, 31, was asked if she considers herself a pioneer.

"I haven't thought about it," she said. "It's a great opportunity. If it paves the way or helps others into coaching, I want to see that happen."

Georgia's first female all-American player (1980-81), she has been assistant to Georgia women's coach Andy Landers since 1985.

"If they're going to hire a woman, they've hired the right one," Landers said. . . .

Brad Rothermel, athletic director at controversy-plagued Nevada-Las Vegas for 10 years, announced he'll step down Dec. 31 to return to teaching. He said a major goal had been a national champion, realized on April 2 when the Runnin' Rebels won the NCAA basketball title. . . .

Willis Peter Bilderback, who coached Naval Academy lacrosse teams to an unmatched eight straight national titles, has died at 81.

Bilderback, who had Alzheimer's disease, wandered away from his family's home in Arnold on Sunday and was found Monday morning by state police in a swamp near his home. He died Tuesday at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore; cause of death was not given.

In 14 years as Navy's head coach, he posted a 132-26-2 record with five unbeaten seasons, retiring in 1972. He is in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday in Annapolis.