Jan. 19, 2011
By O.K. Davis Ruston Daily Leader (April 3, 1988)
TACOMA, Wash. - Dust off the national championship trophy again for Louisiana Tech's Lady Techsters.
After a five-year absence from the throne room, the ladies from North Louisiana are wearing the crown jewels again.
And they fit just perfectly.
The Techsters, who last won a national title back in 1982, rallied in the second half to edge Auburn 56-54 before 8,448 fans at the Tacoma Dome here Sunday afternoon to become the NCAA's seventh annual champion.
It marked the end of a year's worth of frustration for the Techsters, who were humiliated 67-44 in last year's championship game by Tennessee.
But there was no denying the Ruston-based dynasty on the day, as they became only the fourth school in women's basketball history to capture three national titles (Tech was making an all-time record-setting sixth appearance in a national game).
And by doing so, head coach Leon Barmore made it into the record books, too. He became the first male coach ever to win a women's national basketball championship.
Tech, which is now 34-8 in national tournament play, finished the season with a 32-2 record, making it the eighth time in the last 10 years that the 14-year old program has cornered 30 or more victories (the same number of times in which they've participated in the "Final Four").
On Easter Sunday, the Techsters and the estimated 200 fans who made the journey into the Pacific Northwest found a championship egg in their nest.
"The thing that made this victory so great," said Barmore, "was that we never quit believing in ourselves. Even when things were really going bad and we were flat on our backs, our players just found something extra. Even had we lost, I would've been proud, because I would've known that they had reached down and given it their best."
It took Tech's very best to wage the most miraculous comeback in "Final Four" history.
Down by 31-19 at halftime and seemingly on the verge of complete collapse, the Techsters later found themselves trailing by 37-23 in the opening four minutes of the second half.
Tech did them, too. They played relentlessly on defense, forcing 10 turnovers in the second half and preventing the Lady Tigers (31-3) from continuing their first half offensive explosion.
Their offensive tempo picked up, too, particularly with Westbrooks' keen shooting eye from inside the paint.
Whereas Auburn had controlled the first half, Tech owned the most important moment of the final half, especially in the last 10 minutes when they began to stage their rally.
"What we learned in this game," said Auburn head coach Joe Ciampi, "is that it's a 40-minute game. In the first half, we were the aggressors and played within our style. We controlled the tempo. In the second half Tech became the aggressor and began creating opportunities for themselves."
Tech played like the tacticians with which Barmore-coached teams have become known for, creating turnovers with outstanding defensive pressure and working the ball inside for short jumpers or buckets off the offensive boards.
"Coach Barmore didn't even fuss at us at halftime," said Al-Tournament representative Teresa Weatherspoon. "He just told us to go out and start playing some aggressive man defense. That's what we did. All we really did was pick up our intensity level."
The intensity level reached the point where Tech put itself in a position to either win or lose the game on one bucket.
With 39 seconds to play, senior guard Angela Lawson hit a 16-foot jumper on the left baseline and that proved just enough to outlast the Lady Tigers.
"This has got to be one of the greatest days in my life," said the Longview, Tex, native whole scored 10 points. "I have never experienced anything like this. The reason I signed with Tech was to someday be on a national championship team."
Westbrooks had a career high six steals, many created when Auburn's offense was hemmed in at the passing lanes by Tech's aggressive defenders.
"We just got out of control completely in the second half, and I can't put my finger on the reason why," said Ciampi. "We got a little too anxious at times. I thought the game really came down to their putbacks, the number of second chances they got to score and the job they did on the boards."
While junior forward Nora Lewis scored only six points for the Techsters, she had a valuable 12 rebounds, many coming on the offensive glass.
"Nora Lewis would be the first to tell you that the six points was the further most thing from her mind," said Barmore. "She's the kind that would never let you know she didn't have a single point at halftime.
"The thing that is so gratifying about this victory is that we found out what we were made of when things were really, really bad. Sure, we had our doubts when we were getting ourselves kicked in the first half. But, we never quit believing in ourselves. We never lost faith in ourselves."
In the halftime dressing room, Barmore gave a clam, poised talk to his players.
"Coach didn't have to say much, because we knew what kids of situation we were in," said Weatherspoon. "At some point during the game, I think that Tennessee game last year kept coming back to all of us and we didn't want that to happen again."
The Techsters proved that, even when some of their key players are stopped, others will pick up the slack.
Sophomore center Venus Lacy, who had scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 68-59 semi-final victory over Tennessee Friday night, was limited to only four points and eight rebounds.
She was replaced by former Ruston High star Sheila Ethridge in order that Tech could go to a quicker lineup.
"With Shelia in the game," said Barmore, "it moved Nora inside where she was more mobile than Venus. But it also moved Shelia on the wing and extended the defense. When you put those two things together, things started happening."
After Lawson made what would prove to be the deciding bucket, Lady Tigers forward Sharon Stewart was fouled by Lewis with a 25 seconds to play. But on a two-shot situation, she made one to leave a 55-54 lead for the Techsters.
On the return trip up court by Tech, "Spoon" was fouled and went to the line on a one-and-one attempt.
She missed the shot, Auburn got the ball, and then called timeout.
But in the process of setting up their offense, Auburn's Dianne McNeil was tied up by Westbrooks and the possession went to Tech.
"All I as thinking about was 'don't foul, don't foul'," said Westbrooks. "I knew there wasn't much time left, but we sure didn't want to foul them or let them get a three-point shot off."
Tech got the ball back, and Weatherspoon was fouled, making the first of a two-shot try before Auburn called a timeout at 0:01.
A desperation court-length shot by Auburn guard Ruthie Bolton, though, fell short of the rim.
And then the Lady Techsters began getting the trophy case ready for another national championship trophy.