Welcome to the big time, ladies

For better or—at times—worse, the women's game keeps growing
January 27, 1986

Women's college basketball keeps getting bigger. There are now occasional national telecasts of regular-season games, the latest example being Monday's scheduled clash of titans between Texas and Old Dominion on ESPN. The No. 1—ranked Lady Long-horns are averaging 5,049 in home attendance; one NBA team, the Seattle Super-Sonics, averages only 7,921. And Southern Cal coach Linda Sharp says, "The young girls I see are spending more time playing, going to camps, improving their skills. They're getting bigger, too."

But there is this, too: Two weeks ago the NCAA levied its 300th sanction for wrongdoing since it began counting in 1952 and its first ever postseason sanction in a women's sport (although AIAW, which ran women's college athletics before the NCAA took over in 1982, had punished transgressors more or less regularly). The school involved, Northeast Louisiana, was charged with improperly recruiting 6'4" sophomore Chana Perry. Perry was suspended from the team, pending appeal, and the team was placed on a year's probation. Welcome to the big time, ladies.

A more positive note is a definite improvement in quality. With four teams in the national Top 10, the Southeastern Conference is a good example. Andy Landers, who coaches Georgia, now 15-1, is winning in a most unusual way. "We've been stinking it up pretty good, in more ways than one," says Landers, who decreed on Jan. 6 that his players' practice uniforms would go unwashed until he saw better defensive play. The togs have, at this writing, accumulated two weeks' worth of, well, practice. Landers has begun to see good things in practice, but says, "It's not carrying over. If we can get a few games like we've been practicing, we'll throw those babies in the washing machine."

USC, 15-2, packs the house wherever it travels, due largely to Cheryl Miller's marquee value and the fact that Sharp's team has won two of the last three NCAA titles. This year, though, Miller's visibility has been costly. One of USC's losses came in rustic Ruston, La. where the Lady Techsters of Louisiana Tech have gone 57-1 since December 1982. In a pregame ceremony, Miller and Sharp received medallions and warm applause for their contributions to women's basketball. "Then," said a Tech spokesman, "we annihilated them."

He wasn't just referring to the score, which was 75-53. Jostling with Miller under the boards, a Tech player opened the white of Miller's right eye with a fingernail. Miller, who has been thrown out of one game this season for flagrant elbowing, can usually take care of herself. This time, her eye required four stitches. No foul was called.

Like NC State's Jim Valvano, Leon Barmore. Tech's coach, fainted on the court this season. Barmore's swoon occurred as he finished a profane tirade against officials during an 80-68 win over Long Beach State. Eyeing Barmore's supine form, an official calmly, and unsympathetically, assessed a technical. Barmore regrets missing that part. "I usually enjoy my technicals," he says.

LSU, 14-1 and 10th in the country last week, ranks first in the SEC. Lady Tiger coach Sue Gunter says the Southeast is the nation's women's hoops hotbed: "I don't think there's any knowledgeable person who thinks the SEC isn't the best conference in the country."

"The Southeast and the West Coast," says Sharp. Quick to agree is Long Beach State coach Joan Bonvicini, whose 49ers are 11-2 at midseason. The losses were to Louisiana Tech and Georgia, by 25. "At Tech we played great for 35 minutes," says Bonvicini, "then we couldn't throw a pea in the ocean." Bonvicini has a 167—37 record at State and for four years running her teams have lost the West Regional final to the eventual national champ.

When women's coaches make comparisons, names like Blazejowski, Meyers, Lieberman and Woodard usually are mentioned. At Virginia, where the Cavs are the class of the ACC, 5'5" point guard Donna Holt reminds coach Debbie Ryan of Isiah Thomas. "I can't say enough about her athletic ability," gushes Ryan. Holt has 181 steals in 1½ seasons.

There haven't been any dunks during games this season, but with West Virginia's Georgeann Wells still around, you never know. Against Charleston last season, Wells was the first woman to jam in an NCAA game. But the 6'7" Wells met her match in Penn State's 5'3" Suzie McConnell, who's first in assists this season with a 9.73 average. Last season McConnell blocked one of Wells's shots as Penn State beat the Mountaineers 94-69. In women's basketball, even the little guys are coming up big.

PHOTOBILL LUSTERLady Bulldogs Katrina McClain (left), Lisa O'Connor (center) and Teresa Edwards defend themselves against their offensive duds.