Louisiana Tech steamed into Norfolk, Va. last week, opened up with its big guns and won the first NCAA women's basketball title. By sinking Tennessee 69-46 Friday night and then blasting the socks off Cheyney State's Lady Wolves 76-62 in Sunday's sold-out finals in Scope Arena, this bunch from the piney backwoods of Ruston, La. can lay claim to being the best team in the history of women's college basketball. The Lady Techsters finished with a 35-1 season. They have won 69 of their last 70 games, including 54 straight and the 1981 AIAW national championship before Old Dominion beat them on Jan. 29. In the last four years, with brawny Pam Kelly, a 175-pound 6-footer who has Adrian Dantley legs, and brainy Angela Turner, a 5'8" pickpocket of a guard, the enormously talented and richly financed team has gone 143 and 10.
The Techsters are too much. Against Tennessee they didn't allow a field goal in the last 8½ minutes. And on Sunday, after Cheyney State built a stunning 16-8 lead, these rural-route Southerners went on a dazzling 22-8 eight-minute stretch. By halftime Tech led 40-26, and the rooters from Ruston were breaking out their national champion bumper stickers and T shirts. Lady Techster fans have a lot of confidence.
Maybe that's because they are the only club with two principal coaches. Sonja Hogg, 36, is listed as the head honcho; Leon Barmore, 37, as the associate. She's the sweet-talker, dazzling everyone with her plentiful jewelry and platinum-blonde hairdo. He's sallow, gruff and irascible.
While Tech has been to the Final Four in each of the previous four years, this was the first time the women's tournament has come under the aegis of the NCAA. Last year the NCAA just about wrested control of women's athletics from the founding mothers, the AIAW. The AIAW had a tournament, too—Rutgers beat Texas 83-77 in the title game in Philadelphia on Sunday—but the NCAA had 16 of the 20 top teams. So long, pioneers.
April 5, 1982
Hogg put together the first Lady Techster team in 1974. She decided in '77 that if the ladies were going to fly, they needed a no-nonsense pilot. Enter Barmore, a former Ruston High School coach. Now Sonja handles the public relations, the recruiting and any locker room tears. ("Hello, Miss New Hairdo," she will say to a player.) Barmore takes care of the blackboard chalk and game strategy and walks about with a morose expression.
"Hey, Leon," a fan yelled as Tech left Ruston last week. "Why don't you smile?"
Leon moved his grimace up a notch and muttered, "I won't smile till Sunday night."
"He's so intense," says Hogg, "that sometimes I wish he'd take up drinking."
Barmore keeps a low profile, a tough go for someone who's such a basketball nut that he remembers the birth of his daughter, Rachel, as occurring on the night his old high school team won in double overtime. A few weeks ago Barmore was quoted as saying, "I hit the home runs, Sonja circles the bases." What's this, coachly dissension? Not really. Claims Barmore, "The only thing that bothers me is the record—I'm still 0-0." Hogg's career mark is 217-46.
This record is the result of money, personal attention and players. The Louisiana Tech women's basketball budget is more than $100,000, one of the country's biggest, and the school will open a new 8,000-seat field house in May. The team is deep and strong: All-Americas in Kelly and Turner, a silky smooth 6'3" sophomore in Janice Lawrence, a point guard with all the no-look passes in 5'4" Kim Mulkey and a whole lot more. "I've said all along that Tech has the best two teams in the country," said Tennessee Coach Pat Head Summitt last week.
On Friday, Cheyney State beat Maryland 76-66 behind Valerie Walker's 16 second-half points, setting up a championship game between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the rankings. Cheyney State had a 23-game win streak and a 28-2 overall record despite marching to a very different drummer. At Cheyney State, the wolf is perennially at the door of the Lady Wolves. None of the players has an athletic scholarship. Like the majority of the 2,500 students at the suburban Philadelphia school, which is predominantly black, most Cheyney players receive minority-and poverty-program financial aid. The Lady Wolves share practice time with their school's men's team in a cramped, cinderblock gym, and a good many of the athletic administrators are part-timers, volunteers and moonlighters. Even their mascot suit is rented. In Norfolk, Kyle Morris wore a scruffy wolf's head and a bear's bottom. "The regular costume already was out when I went to the store," he explained. Says Walker acidly, "This team runs on Reaganomics."
On Sunday Louisiana Tech just kept coming and coming, like an oil gusher, and wore down the outwomaned competition. Lawrence, who scored 16 in the first half, was named MVP, while Mulkey's passes put her on the All-Tournament team along with Lawrence and Kelly. Afterward the coaches had a TV interview. And guess what. As predicted, Barmore smiled.