Witnesses of the Easter Sunday Massacre understood what Theresa Grentz had meant. After facing Texas last December, the Rutgers coach said of the Lady Longhorns, "There's parity in women's college basketball, all right. Parity on their first and second and third teams." Those platoons of Lady Long-horns trampled USC 97-81 in Lexington for their first NCAA title, and as Texas coach Jody Conradt said, "Whether you're on the floor for the opening tip-off means very little on this team." Indeed, the Longhorn second-stringers outscored USC's bench by 54 points and their own starting five by 19, 58-39.
It helps, of course, if your sixth woman is the tournament's outstanding player, as freshman Clarissa Davis was for Texas. Davis, a thoughtful, 6'1" skywalker from San Antonio who decided to go to Texas after seeing the 'Horns eliminated on TV last year—"Watching that hurt me," she says—led all Final Four scorers with 56 points in two games. The 18-year-old was equally forceful on the boards with 32 rebounds, three blocks and numerous intimidations. She did everything—setting picks, starting fast breaks and finishing them off, trading elbows with her elders and rolling her eyes at the refs. All that, coming off the bench!
"I'm not going to be satisfied unless Clarissa keeps working and continues to improve," says Conradt. She spent a lot of her time in Lexington qualifying others' praise of Davis, whom the cognoscenti have selected to succeed USC's Cheryl Miller as the dominant player in women's basketball. "If she does, I think you'll see the women's game raised to another level," Conradt added.
"Maybe next year," said Davis—whose wants seem simpler—"I'll get to start on this team."
April 7, 1986
Other ironies out of Lexington: Conradt, who is 322-49 in 10 years at Texas, was publicly misidentified so often—three times in one 12-hour span, as Judy Conradt, Linda Sharp (USC's coach) and Pat Head Summitt (Tennessee's)—that by Saturday she was nursing, she said, "a minor identity crisis." And who would have thought that this seeming dream matchup—one that pitted Miller, the country's best-known player, a four-time All-America, against Texas, 33-0 and the top-ranked team—would be the most poorly attended final in the five-year history of the women's tournament? There were 17,338 empty seats in 23,000-seat Rupp Arena on Sunday.
Conradt, who in recent years has flirted with being tagged the Bud Grant of her game—her teams had advanced as far as the final eight four times, but she hadn't a karat of gold for those efforts—insisted before the title game, "I do not feel unfulfilled. You give me a choice between a Rolls-Royce and a national championship, I'll have to think about it." But after the Mideast regional semifinal last year, in which Western Kentucky upset Texas 92-90, she said, "I don't think I'll ever get over this." And two weeks ago in the Midwest regional final, Mississippi gave the 'Horns a scare, ultimately losing 66-63. Said Conradt, "The Ole Miss game was like a loss to us." And so the Longhorns tiptoed into Lexington on Wednesday, apprehensively, it seemed, as if bracing for the usual—the worst.
USC, on the other hand, ought to have brought its own Big Top. Captain Miller set the tone early, asking (and being refused) permission to ride to the hotel on the back of a policeman's Harley-Davidson. Miller has had poor luck with two-wheelers: Thrown when her bicycle chain snapped last fall, she was knocked unconscious. And that wasn't her only mishap. Against Louisiana Tech, in January, the white of one eye was sliced open, requiring four stitches. She has sprained her wrists, knees and ankles, suffered a concussion and broken a finger on her left (non-shooting) hand.
The Women of Troy raised some eyebrows in staid Rupp Arena on Thursday, practicing in baggy, floral-patterned shorts called Jams. That afternoon guard Cynthia Cooper treated the press to excerpts from her Final Four Shuffle. After Miller painted her teammates' shoes USC cardinal—"I just felt creative," she explained—they called her Picasso.
Conradt herself cut something of an outlandish figure, trying to paint her team as underdogs in Friday's semifinal against Western Kentucky. That team had beaten the Longhorns last year, she reminded the media. The Hilltoppers would have the home crowd. They had Final Four experience and nothing to lose. All this was true, but the 'Toppers proceeded to lose 90-65. In Friday's nightcap, USC undid Tennessee in a similar rout, 83-59. Asked what a team could do to stop Texas, Western Kentucky coach Paul Sanderford thought hard for 10 seconds, then offered this: "That's a good question."
On Sunday, tight calls in the first half benefited USC. Nineteen seconds into the game, 'Horn center Annette Smith was whistled for grazing Miller's wrist. Conradt, who had said the day before, "The level of officiating needs to catch up to the women's game," was hit with a technical 12 minutes later. "I was not going to sit there and let the game be reduced to standing-around zones," she said later.
Things came full circle in the second 20 minutes. Miller attempted 13 free throws in the first half but was awarded none in the second. She fouled out with 7:30 left, diving for a loose ball, appropriately. She wound up with 16 points, all scored in the first half, on 2-of-11 field-goal shooting and 12 of 13 foul shots.
The All-Unsung team was headed up by Texas senior Cara Priddy, a 6'2" reserve center. She came into the game Friday and shut down Lillie Mason, Western Kentucky's high-scoring forward, squashing a comeback. (Priddy and her teammates had each taped a finger on their left hands to remind them to overplay Mason to that side.) Priddy's 15 points Sunday—"I didn't realize I'd scored that many," she said gleefully afterward—included a three-point play that put the 'Horns up 32-30, with 5:12 left in the first half. After that, they never trailed.
Texas point guard Kamie Ethridge dished off 10 assists and, more important, disrupted USC's offense. "She made it difficult for Rhonda [Windham] to get the entry pass in," said Sharp. "As a result, we never developed rhythm or momentum."
Coaches who lose to Texas all begin to sound the same after a while: shell-shocked. "So much strength...so much talent," Sanderford duly intoned. "They just keep bringing in fresh players," said Sharp.
Don't feel bad, folks. The only team that can give Texas a game these days is Texas.