The Cal State Long Beach women's basketball team huddled in a hallway outside their Campus Gym. This was just before the big game Jan. 22 against USC--the game for pride, the game for revenge. As the team gathered in a tight circle, the players began to chant, "No prisoners! No prisoners!"
It's not warfare, it's just college basketball. But the way the Trojans and the 49ers square off, the line is sometimes blurred. The way USC views it, Long Beach, which prevailed that night, 76-75, won the battle but not the war.
Today's game, starting at 4:30 p.m. in the Sports Arena, will be the last skirmish between the teams until postseason play. If form holds true, the teams will meet in the NCAA West Regionals March 20 and 22 at Long Beach.
"It's always a good game, you can count on that," said Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini. "The players know each other so well. We have a lot of respect for USC, so we'll be ready."
Long Beach, 23-2 overall and 11-0 in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn., has wrapped up the PCAA title and is hoping to finish in the top four nationally and gain a scheduling advantage in the regionals. USC, 23-3 and 7-0, is likewise a cinch in the Pac West but will have to hope for upsets across the nation to move into the top four in the final two weeks.
Long Beach has risen steadily in the polls since the victory over USC. The 49ers are ranked No. 4 and the Trojans No. 7.
"The rankings surprise me," Bonvicini said. "I voted for USC right behind us. I think they should be higher."
That, though, is about as much charity as either team can expect, since, as rivalries go, this one is particularly heated.
For instance, Cindy Brown, the 49ers' high-scoring center, can live without ever hearing the name of Trojan Cheryl Miller again. In January's game, Brown scored 28 points and had 20 rebounds. Miller, who missed five free throws in the waning minutes, scored 31 points but felt the heat of Brown's intensity.
Brown, normally a low-key player, was gesturing during the game and officials had to separate her and USC's Cherie Nelson after one of several scuffles.
Miller, at least, wants a rematch. "I've got a little surprise for Cindy Brown," Miller said.
USC Coach Linda Sharp said: "We can do a better job defending on Brown. We let Brown get into a good rhythm in the first half."
Brown isn't the only scoring threat for the 49ers. Faye Paige, who was inconsistent in the first half of the season, has scored 69 points in the last three games.