As if the towering presence of their peerless center, Lusia Harris, were not enough, the Lady Statesmen from Delta State arrived at Penn State last week armed with Immaculata jokes to deliver at the AIAW basketball championship. The tournament to decide the top major college women's team had a field of 16 but, as everyone correctly suspected, the finals would be another shootout between Delta State and the Mighty Macs of Immaculata. And so, asked the blazing belles of the Cleveland, Miss, school, pray tell what is the difference between a Big Mac and a Mighty Mac?
Well, one is all hamburger, the other is pure baloney. And: one you eat, one you beat. And: the first has golden arches, the other has fallen arches. So much for corn pone. After that, the Lady Statesmen got down to the more serious chore of defending their championship, a matter taken not lightly by the entire state of Mississippi.
"For us it is much more than a national championship," said Lee Baker, sports editor of the Jackson (Miss.) Daily News. "It is a matter of honor, of pride." The Ladies began by overwhelming host Penn State 88-46 and followed that up by trouncing Baylor 97-55. Then they began to get worried.
For one thing, their star, the 6'3", 185-pound Harris, nicknamed Tower Power, had been weakened by an attack of intestinal flu. Against Baylor, she had coasted (only 16 points in 19 minutes), spending most of her time on the bench watching teammate Cornelia Ward score 38 points.
If nothing else, that at least helped dispel the widely held belief that the Ladies have only one play: get the ball to Harris and watch her score. True, it is the way they play most of the time, because while rapiers may be more dazzling, the bludgeon is more certain.
Delta State's last two rivals were Wayland Baptist, the AAU champion, whose starting team averages 5'10", and Pennsylvania's Immaculata, the AIAW champion for three straight years until the Lady Statesmen upset them last March.
"Don't worry," little Debbie Brock told her teammates before playing Wayland in Friday night's semifinal. "I'll win this game for us. It's my turn."
Debbie Brock stands 4'11" and weighs 80 pounds. She wears a size-4 sneaker. "I carry her around in my pocket," says Margaret Wade, the Delta State coach.
Against taller Wayland, Delta State was forced to use its starters all the way. With less than 11 minutes to play, Wayland was ahead 42-39, and seemed to have momentum for a crushing finish. No way, said the littlest Lady. Debbie Brock stole the ball, passed to Harris, who scored easily. Darting and diving, Brock made another steal and scored herself. She hit from 15 feet. Another steal, another score. In the last 26 seconds she made three foul shots. Delta State won 61-60. "Next year," said a disgruntled Wayland player, "we'll bring a flyswatter."
Immaculata, meanwhile, was having an easy time of it. With excellent balance, swift and poised, the Mighty Macs moved past Cal State, Long Beach (84-65), Montclair State (103-82) and William Penn (74-52), and on into the finals for the fifth straight year. Their coach, Cathy Rush, called it the finest team she has ever coached.
When Immaculata won its first AIAW championship four years ago, it was one of sport's best-kept secrets. For Saturday night's final, sportswriters from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles were on hand, as well as the wire services and NBC. One Mississippi radio station would broadcast the game to three states.
"There's no telling what will happen tonight," a Delta State official said. "This week we've had three tornadoes and an earthquake back home. Last night during the broadcast they took five people to the hospital with heart attacks."
"No matter what happens," promised Jimmy Taylor, one of two Mississippi state troopers assigned to travel with the team, "win or lose, after the team flies into Memphis we're gonna blue-light them all the way home to Cleveland."
The first half pitted Immaculata's crisp outside sharpshooters against Lucy Harris, and the Macs won that battle 32-25. To overcome the slower, more deliberate Lady Statesmen, Immaculata used a running game, streaking down the court, setting up and popping away repeatedly. The Mighty Macs got 16 field goals in the first half, only four from closer than 12 feet. But Harris, with 18 points, kept Delta State in the game.
At halftime the other Ladies decided to give their towering but tired star a little help. "I guess it's my turn," said Ramona Von Boeckman to team captain Wanda Hairston.
No longer looking only for Harris, the Delta State attack became more fluid. Slowly the Ladies caught up, and when they did the lead changed hands 15 times. Von Boeckman, backed by Hairston and the peppery Brock, was everywhere. Then, with 5:47 to play, Hairston went to the foul line and sank a pair to put Delta State ahead 53-52, and the lead never again changed hands.
In the last six minutes Immaculata was called for eight fouls and lost two of its starters—and that was the difference. Of Delta State's final 18 points, 14 of them came from the free-throw line, with Brock putting in the last four. The final score was 69-64. As the Lady Statesmen left for home, the folks down in Cleveland, Miss, got ready for another kind of tornado.