Cheryl Miller, USC's two-time All-America forward and an all-world dancer, loaded her giant tape player with ammunition. "See," she said, "the team doesn't get started till Miller shows up with her box. We hate to stretch before games, so we dance. Gets us real loose. Robot. Backslide. Moonwalk. Even Coach [Linda] Sharp dances."
Miller, a 6'2" sophomore, plunked her box down in the middle of the locker room and turned the volume up—way up. Out blared The Go-Go's, an all-woman rock band from Los Angeles, playing This Town is Our Town, a song about owning L.A. Fingers snapped. Hands clapped. Everybody bumped and shook along with the music. "It's our theme song," Miller explained. "The Women of Troy want to own L.A."
By winning its second straight NCAA women's basketball championship on Sunday—USC outscored, out-passed, outdanced and just plain outflashed Tennessee 72-61 at Pauley Pavilion in, you got it, L.A.—Southern Cal took care of that. That's if it really needed any taking care of. After all, nobody but the Women of Troy themselves seemed to have any doubts that they already were in full possession of the place.
The Trojan women, especially Miller and the 6'3", 170-pound McGee twins, Pamela and Paula—perfect (size) 10s—have never had a hard time getting a table anyplace in town. That's thanks to the sports information department at USC, a.k.a. the University of Social Calendars, which believes more in personal appearances than press releases and works with the school's women athletes on grooming and etiquette and critiques all interviews. No wonder Miller and the McGees are easily the most recognizable women athletes in L.A., and the Women of Troy the most visible team in women's basketball.
April 9, 1984
This season Miller and the twins averaged five or six interviews a week with the print media. The trio made nearly 75 television appearances, from interviews on the local channels to spots on nationwide shows like Real People. Why, on March 28, two days before USC's semifinal game with No. 2-ranked Louisiana Tech, Miller went to the NBC studios in Bur-bank to appear live on the Today show at 5:10 a.m. PST. That meant getting up at 3:30. "I sure wasn't alive," Miller said afterward. Imagine John Thompson or Guy Lewis agreeing to let his star player do that two days before an NCAA semi.
The folks in Tinseltown are still talking about Miller's guest appearance on the Grammy Awards show in February, when she came out of nowhere, slammed a ball through a basket and upstaged Donna Summer, who was singing She Works Hard for the Money. "I've never been so nervous," said Miller, who at 19 is already the best woman player ever. "I was afraid the ball would bounce off my foot and hit Michael Jackson or somebody in the audience."
The McGees were a hit a while back on Thicke of the Night, when they easily beat host Alan Thicke and actor Elliott Gould at two-on-two. "Now, if we can just get on Johnny Carson," Pam says. "Or even David Letterman," says Paula.
Tom Selleck is a close friend of the USC players. Michael Warren and Veronica Hamel of Hill Street Blues try not to miss a game. Magic Johnson hangs out with the McGees. Dinner with Dr. Jerry Buss, Laker owner and USC alum, isn't unusual, nor are chitchats with the likes of recent Buss dinner guests, Lee Majors and Cicely Tyson. President Reagan, California Governor George Deukmejian and L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley keep in touch by mail. "We're very Hollywood," Pam says.
All the glitz—"It's a form of intimidation," says USC sports information director Elise Frantom—helped get the Women of Troy back to the Final Four, after they started the season minus two starting guards, Rhonda Windham, who tore up her right knee at last summer's National Sports Festival, and Cynthia Cooper, who was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester. And the glitz didn't exactly hurt USC when it came to tournament time. Southern Cal blew out Long Beach State 90-74 in the West Regionals two weeks ago. Cagney and Lacey were there for moral support. Then, in the national semis last Friday, the Women of Troy intimidated the small-town girls from Louisiana Tech 62-57. "USC is a lot of hype," the Lady Techsters' pig-tailed senior point guard. Kim Mulkey, had said before the game. Mulkey, who had had one of the best games of her career, 19 points and 10 assists, in a Jan. 3 win over Southern Cal in Ruston, La., was shut out and committed eight turnovers Friday.
"I knew USC was going to win after I saw some of the Louisiana Tech kids run into Mr. Goodwrench in their hotel lobby," said Dereck Andrade. a student assistant in the USC sports information department. "They thought that was a really big deal."
But Pat Head Summitt, the 1984 U.S. women's Olympic coach, who had led Tennessee to the Final Four in five of the previous seven years, wasn't about to let her 23-10 Lady Vols be fazed by a blow-dried auto mechanic, even though they'd already lost twice to USC this season: 78-64 at the Notre Dame Thanksgiving Classic and 81-66 in L.A. on Dec. 8. She didn't want her team to stray too far from the basics—she had put the team through brutal drills the last three weeks—not to mention from their hotel. She convinced the Lady Vols that there's nothing wrong with being unflashy kids from Knoxville.
"Mary Ostrowski asked me what to wear to Saturday's press conference," said Debbie Jennings, Tennessee's publicist, about the Lady Vols' star forward. Ostrowski had gotten Tennessee to the championship game with a record-setting semifinal performance against Pennsylvania's Cheyney University; she scored 35 points and had 16 rebounds in the Lady Vols' 82-73 win. "I told her she could wear a formal and the McGees would still knock her out of the box," said Jennings. "We're just hillbillies with bare feet. We have a hard time competing. Hey, when we were here in L.A. last December, the kids thought it was a big deal just to sit in the audience at the Tonight Show."
Lights. Camera. Action. The entire nation is watching. On Sunday USC came out fired up, all high fives, hugs and fists in the air, playing up to the crowd. The Lady Vols, on the other hand, were all business, blank-faced, sedate and intense. "We didn't want the L.A. scene to intimidate us," Ostrowski said.
The Women of Troy controlled the tip and ran up a 20-12 lead in the first 13 minutes. To that point, Miller had played Ostrowski tightly, allowing her just one basket, and the Twin Towers had held forward Tanya Haave and center Paula Towns, who together had been averaging 24 points a game, to only two.
But with 6:17 to go, Sharp inserted Cooper for Miller—to give Cheryl a rest; she had no fouls—and in the three minutes Miller was on the bench, the Lady Vols switched channels. They changed from a man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1 zone, which confused the USC guards, and Tennessee went on a 16-6 tear to take a 28-26 halftime lead.
USC's games this year routinely had been decided in the first five minutes or so of the second half. Southern Cal, which was 24-4 during the regular season, would storm out and scare their opponents. But the Lady Vols were unflappable; their zone kept the Women of Troy throttled until six minutes remained in the game. "Then we decided we had to have another championship," Miller said later. "So we really turned it on."
Lights. Camera. Action. Take Two. For the Women of Troy, The-Always-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players, it was show time. Miller almost singlehandedly disrupted the Tennessee offense with her gritty defense. "We just handed the ball over to them," Summitt would say. And, on offense, Cooper put USC into overdrive, pushing the ball up the floor and hitting freshman guard Amy Alkek and Paula McGee on consecutive crucial feeds.
Then, with 2:19 left, Miller stole a Pat Hatmaker pass and went three-quarters of the length of the floor for the layup that made the score 61-53 USC. Cooper came right back with another steal and another layup to put USC up 63-53. Miller sank two more baskets after that, one on a pass underneath from Paula McGee and the other on a lay-in to finish with 16 points and cop the tournament MVP trophy. Hooray for Hollywood!
"We get a lot of criticism for being Hollywood's Team," said Pam McGee, who scored 17 points to match sister Paula's total. "But I've grown so much in my four years here. I arrived a naive little girl from Flint, Michigan, and I leave a woman of the world.
"I've been exposed to very successful people from all kinds of backgrounds. USC has taught us that we can hold our own with anyone—at any level—on or off the court. And that we belong."
Sharp agreed, saying, "The girls do a better job on the court because of their off-court exposure. They have had to live in an adult world, facing adult pressures. They thrive on it. And when the camera goes on or a national championship is on the line, they light up. They do love being on TV."