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Long Beach Sports : Once-Mighty 49er Women Will Finish With First Losing Season : Basketball: Personality conflicts and player losses have led to a disappointing record under a second-year coach who stresses academics and discipline.

March 04, 1993|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Dressed in caps and gowns, the Cal State Long Beach women basketball players smile in a preseason promotional photograph that suggests a team doing its best to succeed.

That has been far from the case. The once-mighty 49ers are virtually assured of their first losing season. They have lost three consecutive games to fall to 7-16, with two games remaining in the regular season.

As Coach Glenn McDonald stood stoically on the sidelines Saturday night, powerless to stop a 33-turnover performance in a 68-55 loss to Nevada Las Vegas, he heard the players arguing with one another.

Not only is the team thin on talent, it is riddled by dissension.

Last week, McDonald dismissed promising guard Princess Murray, a transfer from Loyola Marymount, for violating team rules. Guard Marsheela Harriston, the lone returning starter, missed a practice and was benched for most of the first half of Saturday's loss to Las Vegas. Center Jackie Hatten was absent from practice for a week and missed the Feb. 25 game against New Mexico State, which the 49ers lost, 64-62. She returned to play Saturday.

"We've got some new kids, and I don't think they understand what it means to play for Long Beach," said McDonald, a second-year coach who has come under criticism for the team's performance. "Everyone wants to stomp us. Everyone wants to beat Long Beach because of our past record."

Among teams that have done the stomping is USC, which administered a 101-48 defeat, the worst in 49er history.

The 49ers average 24 turnovers a game and are shooting 38.6% from the floor. Close games--the kind they used to win--have slipped away in the final minutes seven times.

Players say a rift developed among them during fall practice because of conflicting personalities.

"I don't think in the beginning that (McDonald) knew we weren't getting along," said Neisha Williams, who leads the team in scoring with an average of 13.7 points.

There have been other reasons for the team's disappointing performance. First, three of last season's starters completed their eligibility. Another starter transferred away, and a promising guard quit the team.

McDonald had counted on Danielle Scott, a 6-foot-3 junior and a star on the volleyball team, to start at center. As a sophomore, she averaged 10.7 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. But Scott sprained an ankle twice while playing volleyball and decided to redshirt in basketball.

"Danielle could have made the difference in the team," McDonald said.

Senior guard LaTisa Rush, a potential starter who played in 11 games last year, quit before the first game, saying she was burned out.

Forward Kellie Bennett, the 1991 Big West Conference freshman player of the year who averaged 11 points last season, transferred to UCLA last summer.

What's left is a disorganized collection of mostly walk-ons and young players.

"They need to find a chemistry," said Trise Jackson, a starting guard last year and now a volunteer assistant coach.

The job of molding the team fell to the 6-foot-8 McDonald, who played for the 49er men's team in the early 1970s and later with the Boston Celtics.

McDonald, despite his playing experience, admits he still is learning the game.

"Some kids are students of the game," he said. "I am not a student of the game. When I was a player, I just enjoyed playing the game."

In addition to succeeding a coach who had developed Long Beach into a national power, he also was asked to improve the basketball program's academic record.

Under Coach Joan Bonvicini, now at Arizona, the 49ers won 10 conference titles and made 12 consecutive postseason tournament appearances, including trips to the Final Four in 1987 and 1988. But only 10% of her players graduated from 1986 through 1991, compared to an average of 35% for the university's other athletic teams.

McDonald instituted a rule--don't go to class, don't play.

"In all likelihood, that has had a detrimental effect on the team's won-loss record," said Dave O'Brien, acting athletic director. "But in the long run, by stressing education and discipline, he will build the program the way we want it."

Last season McDonald guided the 49ers to a 21-10 record, but they finished out of the Top 25 and failed to win the regular season or conference tournament titles. They made their earliest exit from postseason play with a 79-66 loss at Creighton in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

McDonald acknowledges that he has to live in the shadow of Bonvicini's accomplishments, but plans to do things his way. For example, whereas Bonvicini searched the country for recruits, McDonald intends to concentrate on Southern California, where he thinks there is enough talent from which to draw.

But a rival coach who asked not to be identified thinks that Long Beach is headed in the wrong direction.

"I look at some of the kids that they are bringing in and these would be solid Division II players, not the kind of kids that would keep a program at a high national level," he said.

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