USC forward Cheryl Miller stared blankly around the press room Monday night, as teammate Rhonda Windham explained the Trojans' 61-59 loss to San Diego State in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
"We play with a small lineup, and when you have 6-foot-4, 300-pounders going against 6-0, 150-pounders, you're gonna lose something inside," said Windham, USC's 5-5 point guard. "More people are going to have to screen out because Cheryl can't get all the rebounds. That's what seems to be happening now."
To that, Miller could only reply: "I think she just said it all."
Windham was exaggerating a bit. The Aztecs weren't that big. But she wasn't far off in the case of San Diego State center Toni Wallace.
Wallace, 6-4 and 230 pounds, was much too big for the Trojans Monday night. She scored 15 points and grabbed 8 rebounds to lead the Aztecs' upset.
All seven of her baskets came from inside the key, as she repeatedly outmuscled the Trojan front line for high-percentage shots.
San Diego State also outrebounded USC, 50-36, with 17 of those coming on the offensive end.
But even more impressive, the Aztecs beat the Trojans without help from their best player, Tina Hutchinson. Hutchinson, who aggravated her injured knee in practice Sunday, came off the bench in the second half but wasn't a factor. She didn't have a point or rebound in the five minutes she played.
Hutchinson, averaging 20 points a game, has been San Diego State's leading scorer despite missing five of the Aztecs' 20 games because of a torn ligament.
"The positive thing is we did this without Tina Hutchinson, without an All-American on the floor," Aztec Coach Earnest Riggins said. "That says a lot for our team."
The Aztecs trailed for most of the second half until consecutive jump shots by Penny Toler, who also had 15 points, and Dee Dee Duncan put San Diego on top, 60-58, with 1:16 remaining.
Miller, who scored 24 points, had a chance to tie the game seven seconds later, but she could only make the first free throw in the bonus situation. The Aztecs controlled the rebound on her free throw and earned the victory with some timely offensive rebounding.
Toler missed a jumper on the other end, but Duncan secured the rebound with 38 seconds to play. The Aztecs then held the ball until Renee Overton beat the 30-second second clock with a jumper.
The shot missed, but Overton grabbed the rebound and raced toward half court where her dribbling exhibition was interrupted by Miller, who shoved Overton out of bounds with seven seconds left. It was Miller's fifth foul.
Overton made the first free throw to give San Diego State a 61-59 lead, but she missed the second. USC forward Holly Ford snared the rebound, passed upcourt to Windham, who in turn, hit Yolanda Fletcher.
But Fletcher's jumper from the foul line missed at the buzzer, and the Trojans suffered their second consecutive loss. Louisiana Tech had snapped USC's 53-game, Sports Arena winning streak with its double-overtime victory Saturday.
The Aztecs improved to 4-2 in the Western Collegiate Athletic Assn. and 15-5 overall. The eighth-ranked Trojans dropped to 1-1 and 11-5.
"We knew we weren't going to stop Cheryl Miller," Riggins said. "Our job was to make sure the other players didn't hurt us. We didn't want a fast-break game. We don't have the people to run with them, but we played a good half-court game."
Early in the game Wallace suffered a slight separation of her shoulder but did not leave the lineup. She pulled it out of joint in the closing seconds and after the game had an ice pack draped over her shoulder. But that hardly dimmed her spirits.
It was the first time the Aztecs had defeated USC since the 1976-77 season.
"This is big," Wallace said. "It feels so good to beat them on their home floor."
It appeared that USC might pull away from San Diego State midway through the second half when Windham's fast-break basket gave the Trojans a 54-47 lead with 8:26 left.
But Miller and Fletcher each went to the bench with their fourth fouls in the next minute, and the Aztecs scored five straight points to pull within 54-52.
USC's leading scorers returned to the game with 5:38 to go, but neither Miller nor Fletcher could prevent a Trojan loss.