Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., until 1962 a mere appendage of the College of William & Mary, is the nation's capital of his-and-hers hoops. The male Monarchs, winners of the Division II NCAA title in 1975, made it into the Division I tournament this year, losing to UCLA 87-74. Not bad, though they'd better watch out, lest the Lady Monarchs turn the school into a matriarchy.
Led by three-time All-America Guard Nancy Lieberman and the twin towers under the backboards, 6'5" Inge Nissen of Denmark and 6'8" Anne Donovan, ODU embarrassed opponents all season. It beat UCLA by 28, USC by 43, Virginia Union by 60 and Virginia by 35 and 39. In a romp over Rutgers earlier this month, Lieberman had 27 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals and wrote three term papers at halftime.
Last Sunday afternoon in Mount Pleasant, Mich. the Lady Monarchs were near their best for a gymful of fans at Central Michigan University and a national TV audience. They beat Tennessee for the third time this season—it was their 27th victory in a row—and thus won their second straight AIAW national championship, improved their record to 37-1 and proved conclusively that in the short history of women's college basketball they are the best yet. The final score: Old Dominion 68, Tennessee 53.
It was Tennessee's third time in the final four but only the first in the title game. The Lady Vols climbed that high not only because of good coaching from Pat Head but also because of the overly liberal transfer rule of the AIAW, which allows a woman to switch schools and play right away. No sitting out a year, a semester or even so much as half a game. Even Head dislikes the rule, though she has benefited from it the most. Her two big scoring threats are transfers, 6'5" Cindy Noble from Ohio State and 6'3" Jill Rankin from Wayland Baptist in Texas. Rankin moved to Tennessee this season, after making All-America and playing on numerous international teams.
Old Dominion had by far the most fan support in Mount Pleasant, including a student decked out in a powder-blue lion suit, a man from a Norfolk radio station dressed up as a sea gull, the school band in powder-blue uniforms and a retired Navy man who wore powder blue right down to his shorts. Tennessee had to make do with a few followers waving pompons and the Mount Pleasant High School band dressed for the occasion in orange Tennessee T shirts.
But the entire population of Knoxville couldn't have helped the Lady Vols shoot over Donovan, who blocked 10 shots and pulled down 17 rebounds, and Nissen, who led all scorers with 20 points. Time after time Rankin and Noble would get the ball in the middle and end up having their shots batted away, contributing to Tennessee's woeful 33% field-goal average. And the Vols couldn't relieve the pressure by hitting from outside. Guards Holly Warlick and Lea Henry were a dismal 3 for 18.
To top it all off, Lieberman was up to her old ballhandling tricks, looking at press row while rifling a blind pass to Nissen underneath, hitting a jumper from the left baseline, stealing, rebounding and hounding Tennessee in the Monarchs' "passive press," designed to stop the Vols from running and to use up time on the 30-second clock getting the ball upcourt. All told, Lieberman, who had to sit several times because of foul trouble, had 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
"Lieberman's probably the most tenacious ballplayer I've ever seen," says Old Dominion Coach Marianne Stanley. "You don't find many guards that'll rebound the way she does. You don't find many players who can completely control the tempo and complexion of the ball game as Nancy does. I don't think I've seen many people who have her confidence. You can't teach that. Nancy probably had that when she was born. She probably came out of the womb swinging."
All the Monarchs came out of the locker room swinging Friday night for their semifinal game against Louisiana Tech. The Lady Techsters—surely that is a strong candidate for the worst nickname in college sports—were the only team to beat Old Dominion this season, 59-57 in Madison Square Garden in December. In that game Tech shut down ODU's inside attack, helped by the fact that Donovan, a freshman who was probably the most heavily recruited female athlete in the nation last year, was doing a Statue of Liberty imitation instead of constantly moving and seeking the ball. After that game, Stanley, a two-time All-America guard at Immaculata College, ordered double practice sessions for a week and a half "and did the things we had to do to establish our inside game."
Stanley had forecast nothing but nail-biters for the AIAW tournament, but she changed her mind just before the Louisiana Tech game. "We came out of the locker room and I was standing there watching us shooting," she said later, "and—whew!—we were hot as a pistol. Everybody was concentrating really hard and making a lot of shots, and that's not typical of us. And I thought, 'If they keep doing this, it's going to be unbelievable.' "
Most of the time Nissen and Donovan dug in on either side of the hoop on offense, ready to gobble any missed shot and toss it back up. Together they had 34 points, 19 rebounds and numerous rejections.
Stanley says that four of her guards, Lieberman, Angela Cotman, Chris Critelli and Rhonda Rompola, can play at wing or point guard, dishing out the passes. "I like Nancy at the point," she says, "but tonight it became evident that we weren't shooting well from the wings until I made a switch and put her out there. She dropped in a couple from about 18 feet and I said, 'Stay over there.' "
The Monarchs led by 14 at halftime and probably could have won by 40 but their stars were on the bench at the end, and the final score was 73-59. By then Stanley's 4-year-old daughter, Michelle, who wants to be a cheerleader, was fast asleep at courtside with her head on an injured player's lap. No novelty to her to see Lieberman fire a no-look pass.
In the other semifinal, South Carolina met Tennessee, completing an all-Dixie final four. This seemed slightly absurd in the middle of Michigan, but it was a site suited to South Carolina freshman Guard Evelyn Johnson, who comes from Lansing, about an hour's drive south of Mount Pleasant. A younger sister of Magic Johnson, Evelyn knows some tricks herself, having scored 54 points in one game at Lansing's Everett High. (The best big brother ever did there was 52.)
Evelyn dislikes the nickname "Lady Magic," preferring "Sweet E" or just "E." She can't pass like Magic, but she certainly can shoot. She was South Carolina's top scorer in five of six games preceding the semis.
"Evelyn has progressed much more than I expected as a freshman," says South Carolina Coach Pam Parsons. "I don't think anyone thought she would develop as a freshman into the dominant player on a team in the final four."
Unfortunately, Johnson played only about half the game against Tennessee and scored just nine points.
Tennessee led by as much as 17 late in the second half and was getting a fine offensive game from Noble, who sank 12 of 14 shots, mostly turnaround jumpers, and had a total of 29 points. But with 3:42 left, and the score 70-56, South Carolina went into a full-court press and the Lady Vols' lead began to melt away, down to six, then four. It was two with 56 seconds left. But Johnson fouled out with 29 seconds to go, Warlick made one of the two free throws and Tennessee hung on for a 75-72 win.
E, who more resembles DePaul's Mark Aguirre than brother Magic, was quite a bit sweeter on Sunday. Although she again played only about half a game, this time she scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Lady Gamecocks—a singularly inappropriate nickname—beat Louisiana Tech 77-69 for third place.
Though she is certain to make plenty of All-this and Ail-that teams, Johnson wasn't named to the sportswriters' unofficial all-star five in Mount Pleasant (the AIAW doesn't believe in such things), which consisted of Old Dominion's Lieberman, Donovan and Nissen (MVP), Tennessee's Noble and South Carolina's Sheila Foster.
It was Lieberman who recruited Nissen in Europe to join her at Old Dominion four years ago. Did they dream then of two national championships?
"Well, we were optimistic," said Lieberman with a grin. "People there asked me, 'Where is it? Is it part of America?' I'd say, 'Yes, it's a nice school with nice people.'
"And coaches here told me, 'You'll never win a championship or make All-America or get any recognition if you go to ODU.' I hate to say, 'I told you so,' but...."