Whenever David takes on Goliath, almost everybody gets behind the little guy and hopes. Upstart versus Up-top. It's the American way. And in the classic unfolding of this tradition, the underdogs respond with a mighty effort and leave poor Goliath reeling.
Forget it. Forget happy-ending headlines, unless you find cheer in DAVID'S SLINGSHOT EMPTY, GIANT KO'S KID. Last weekend Goliath—that is, 32-0 Louisiana Tech—put its victory string on the line twice in the AIAW basketball championships in Eugene, Ore. Once versus tournament newcomer USC (Tech 66, Trojans 50). And once against last year's runner-up, Tennessee (Tech 79, Tennessee 59). "Hey, you think we came all this way to lose?" asked Tech reserve Center Debra Rodman.
Now that you mention it, no. All season long, the Lady Techsters were beating the likes of Kansas, two-time defending champion Old Dominion, UCLA 'and Long Beach State. And from the opening tap back on the first of December, Tech remained firmly lodged atop the rankings, in every official and unofficial poll. Is it any wonder that Coach Sonja Hogg wears a diamond-studded gold "#1" pendant around her neck?
Hogg, 35, is a no-nonsense lady, from the tip of her spike heels to the top of her lemon-meringue hair. When she arrived at Tech seven years ago to teach physical education, the women's basketball team didn't exist, and the school's main claim to fame was a balding football player by the name of Bradshaw. But a handful of interested women persuaded the university administration to give basketball a small-scale whirl, and Hogg was stuck with the job of overseeing the details. "I was new, and doesn't the new kid always get volunteered for these things?" she says.
Although Hogg herself was enthusiastic, she wasn't sure women's hoops would catch on. "I warned everyone that if it didn't go within a year, they'd have to count me out," she says. That first season, 1974-75, playing with local talent, Tech went 13-9 and has never looked back. In 1979 the Lady Techsters made their first appearance in the final four, losing in the championship game to Old Dominion. Last year Tech once more fell to the Lady Monarchs, this time in a semifinal. And this year the Lady Techsters scored an average of 90.5 points while winning by 32.3 points a game. Unbeaten, unblemished, unbelievable.
All season long, people have been mispronouncing Sonja Hogg's name while asking, "How do they stay undefeated, Son-ya? Hey, Son-ya Hawg, what's the secret weapon?" Sonja (just as it looks) Hogg (rhymes with rogue) merely shakes her head, smiles and says, "I still don't know." No? "Well, we do have depth."
Indeed, it was Tech's depth that preserved its zero in the loss column against USC. "I think they're ripe," Trojan Coach Linda Sharp was saying on Friday morning. "I mean, 32 games? How can anyone stay psyched for 32 games?" To aid USC's psyche, a 29-piece Trojan band—part of the bigger one which is heard at the L.A. Coliseum in the fall and which is the backup to Fleetwood Mac on that group's Tusk album—made the long bus trek to Eugene and played harder and louder than any band in the building. And for a while, the band seemed to work inspirational magic. The Trojan defense was shutting down All-America Center Pam Kelly, a junior who scores 17.9 points a game. "Everyone's got to have one bad game," Sharp had said before meeting Tech, her tone implying, "Please let this be it." And the rest of the Techsters weren't so sharp, either, committing turnovers galore. Ah, but depth. With Kelly in trouble, Hogg sent Rodman in and watched her score 15 points. Kim Mulkey, a petite reserve guard with a ponytail, came in to play quarterback. And suddenly Tech ran away from the Trojans.
Afterward, Mulkey stood in a drafty hallway and wondered about the Lady Techsters. "I can't pinpoint any one thing that made us play as poorly as this," she said. "Some games during the year we were this way. And like tonight, we were lucky and we won. USC played excited, we didn't." Could it have been the pressure of being the nation's only unbeaten major college basketball team, regardless of sex? Mulkey shrugged and said, "Some people think a defeat makes you better. I don't. Maybe we didn't think much about it, but it's sure nice having that big zero there all year." Another guard, Jennifer White, spoke up, "If you're a top team you should love pressure. Coach says so. And he's right."
He? Oh yeah. Besides the abundance of talent on Tech's bench, which Sharp described as "99 deep," there's a lot of coaching ability sitting there, too. Hogg is head honcho—recruiting, leading and putting the finishing touches on game plans. Next in line is Associate Head Coach Leon Barmore, who handles the basic Xs and Os. Poor Barmore, he's a grade-B version of Bobby Knight who gets so worked up on the job he comes out of games more drained than his players. During last year's semifinals, Bar-more collapsed of heat exhaustion. This year he waved his arms a lot but remained fairly perpendicular. And rounding out the Tech brain trust is the defensive coordinator and director of recruiting, Gary Blair. He coached Rodman's high school team last season when it went 40-0. His two-year coaching record stands at 73-0.
Together Hogg, Barmore and Blair guided Tech through a season that was 11 games shorter than last year's, all the better for ensuring a second wind for the second season—the national tournament. "How can you be sharp in the final four when you've played 43 games before you get there?" drawls Hogg. Now she and her staff are puzzling over next season's scheduling dilemma. But it's the sort of problem any coach would gladly trade a year's supply of sweatbands for: because the Lady Techsters buried every opponent who showed up in Ruston, La., no one wants to play in Tech's Memorial Gym anymore.
No wonder, seeing as how this season's entire crop will be back in 1981-82 to run its high-scoring post offense around Kelly and freshman Janice Lawrence and throw up the tough multiple defense that allowed Tech to turn even lackluster performances into wins. "You've got to be impressed with them," says Tennessee Coach Pat Head Sum-mitt. "Face it. They walked in here undefeated. They've beaten everybody." The last AIAW champion to finish the season undefeated had been Delta State of Cleveland, Miss., in 1975.
Even Hogg, who knew her club was loaded, admits the perfect season was a surprise. "We've got some fans back home who told me in August we'd win everything," she says. "I knew we'd have to lose one or two along the way, so frankly I thought they were out of their minds." Or maybe just slavishly devoted to Tech, perhaps because, as one fan put it, "There's really not much else to do in Ruston." Last weekend about 100 Tech fans sat courtside with the band and eight cheerleaders when their team took its precious collection of victories into the final game on the University of Oregon campus. Tech had beaten Tennessee before Christmas, 77-53. "I don't see this as a chance for revenge," Head Summitt was saying before the game. "To me it's a chance to win a national championship. That's something we've never done and Tech has never done."
"No Cakewalk" is how Hogg viewed Sunday's final. To counter Tennessee's strong inside game, the Techsters came out in a zone defense. "Sometimes when we use the zone, the kids stand there and watch," said Hogg afterward, "but this time we did a super job of covering their post people." Tech Forward Angela Turner continually stole the ball from the Lady Vols and at the other end of the court tossed in 16 points. Turner's name was not on the All-America list released last Saturday, which plainly peeved Hogg. (Kelly made it for the second year in a row.) Apparently, Turner's season averages of 13.4 points and 5.5 rebounds a game weren't enough for the selectors. But her aggressive style in the final four couldn't escape notice and won her tournament MVP honors.
After the game Hogg was carried to midcourt on her team's shoulders while Tech's rooters chanted, "We're un-DEE-feated." The coach grinned before saying, "We had only one goal this season, just one thing that could realistically satisfy us. We wanted to win the championship." She paused, hugging her trophy and then asked, "Who would have dared dream we'd be here with this at 34-0?"