Van Chancellor, the good 'ol boy who coaches the Mississippi women's basketball team, should have stuck to his original game plan. He should have hoped that Cindy Brown and Penny Toler missed the Cal State Long Beach team bus to Thursday night's NCAA West Regional semifinal game.
Indeed, both made it safely to Pauley Pavilion, a bad sign for Mississippi from the start. Brown and Toler didn't miss the bus or much else, scoring 32 and 24 points respectively to lead Long Beach to a 94-55 rout before crowd of 2,121.
Now Chancellor and the Rebels (25-5) have transportation plans of their own--as in going home after being knocked out of the NCAA tournament. Long Beach (32-2) stays around and meets Ohio State Saturday at 7 p.m., with the winner advancing to the Final Four in Austin, Tex.
The 49ers, enjoying the winningest season in school history, have reached the regional final three times in the last four years and fallen short each time. Thursday's game, if nothing else, gave them plenty of momentum for this try.
Chancellor had played Long Beach's drastic height advantage off as a joke earlier in the week, but he probably wasn't counting on the first half being as lopsided as the starting matchups. Moreover, the team that had lost four games this season by a total of 11 points wasn't planning to fall behind by 15 at halftime, 40-25.
When it came right down to it, Chancellor wasn't laughing with these starting matchups on the front line:
Center--Cynthia Autry, a 5-foot 11-inch sophomore, facing 6-3 freshman Shannon Smith of Long Beach.
Forwards--Mississippi's Joy Eichelberger and Alisa Scott, both 5-9, going against 6-1 Cheryl Dowell and 6-2 Cindy Brown.
Long Beach did a good job exploiting its advantage--the 49ers had seven more rebounds in the first half and Brown scored 10 points--but the single-most important player in the first 20 minutes was Toler, a 5-8 guard. She also did some damage inside, but her real success came on jump shots.
While Mississippi shot just 27.8%, Long Beach connected on 56.7%, led by Toler's 9 for 11. Margaret Mohr, the other guard, made all three of her shots.
Long Beach had two 17-point leads in the first half, the first time with 1:12 left on a play that showed Brown's true athletic ability.
After the 49ers had already put together a 9-0 run to take a 36-21 lead, the senior All-American, as has been the case several times in her career, played out front in a zone press. She came close to a steal there, but still got back in time to grab the rebound off a Mississippi miss and whip a baseball pass to Toler, who cruised the rest of the way for the layup.
The 15-point halftime lead for Long Beach was up to 20, 53-33, five minutes into the second half.
Coach Joan Bonvicini made frequent substitutions, and why not? It was obvious at that point the 49ers had another game to prepare for.