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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENTS : Miller Renews Rivalry as a Peer of Barmore's : Women: USC tries to reach Final Four by ousting Lady Techsters, winners of 23 straight.

March 26, 1994|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Rookie Coach Cheryl Miller goes up against the winningest coach in women's basketball tonight in her quest to take USC to next weekend's Final Four.

In the NCAA Mideast Regional championship game, her Trojans (26-3) meet perennial power Louisiana Tech (29-3) at 4:30 p.m. PST at the University of Arkansas.

Coaching the Lady Techsters--who have won 23 in a row--is Leon Barmore, a slow-talking Louisianian full of wit and whimsy who says the great effort his team had in upsetting top-ranked Tennessee here Thursday won't be enough to beat the Trojans.

Miller's USC team in her playing days denied Barmore's team a third consecutive NCAA title in 1983.

Barmore is sort of the Bear Bryant of women's basketball, a big-time winner--he began this season as women's basketball's No. 1 winner at 85.5%--who's equally capable of volcanic sideline rages and one-liners. This guy never saw a reporter's notebook he couldn't fill.

Friday, for example, he was talking about an early-season loss to Alabama.

"They just didn't slap us in the face," he drawled. "They spit on us. They stomped on us. We were abused."

On his team's 71-68 victory over Tennessee: "I told our girls that if that game against Tennessee was their game of the year, then we ain't gonna be able to compete with SC. Might just as well not show up."

On USC's starting lineup: "If you lined those SC girls up wingtip-to-wingtip, you'd have the longest combined arm span in women's basketball."

Thursday, Barmore erupted seconds after the opening tip. He yanked off his red blazer and threw it on the floor as he chased an official along the sideline. Friday, he was asked what had upset him.

"When you have the jump ball, and the other center grabs the ball and dribbles down the court . . . I wasn't aware you could do that."

USC's task tonight will be to slow Louisiana Tech's lightning-quick guards--Pam Thomas and Debra Williams. Tennessee couldn't, and they combined for 42 points.

Louisiana Tech will have to contain Lisa Leslie tonight--and try to keep her off the free-throw line. The 6-5 senior was six for eight against Virginia from the line, and recently made 22 in a row in a 36-for-37 stretch.

Miller scoffed Friday at a suggestion that her players might be too tired tonight.

"We feed them, we put them to bed and we let them sleep in," she said. "They're not tired."

Miller called the shot in Louisiana Tech's upset of No. 1-ranked Tennessee.

"Louisiana Tech will absolutely beat Tennessee tomorrow," she said Wednesday night.

"No one beats Leon Barmore by 34 points without paying a price."

Louisiana Tech had been clobbered, 94-60, at Tennessee on Dec. 22. It was the Lady Techsters' last defeat.

Miller is a Barmore admirer.

"Leon has the greatest officials' glare in basketball," she said. "I try to imitate it, but it just doesn't work."

Women's Basketball Notes

Kim Mulkey-Robertson, former Louisiana Tech All-American and now a Tech assistant coach, was Cheryl Miller's teammate on the 1984 gold-medal U.S. Olympic team. . . . Tennessee junior guard Tiffany Woosley, the team's leading scorer who made numerous All-American teams, had a nightmare game against Louisiana Tech. She was one for seven from the field, scored three points and committed six turnovers.

North Carolina's victory over Vanderbilt in the East Regional removes the tournament's best three-point shooting team. Vanderbilt finished the season as a 40.6% three-point team, third best in the nation. Moreover, Vanderbilt's Julie Powell led the nation at 48.5% and her teammate, Rhonda Blades, finished 12th at 42.1%. Stanford, at 40.3%, is the best remaining three-point team.

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt seethed late Thursday in the postgame interview session. Swift Louisiana Tech guard Pam Thomas had scored repeatedly on drives, all to the right side. Summitt was asked why her players hadn't forced Thomas to go left, and it was apparent she had wondered the same thing. "That was discussed," she replied, icily. "And it never happened."

Miller, on being perceived as cocky and arrogant: "It must be the way I was raised. My parents told me I was destined to be someone great, and (they told me) to live it. Look at my brother (NBA player Reggie Miller). He's a millionaire for being a jerk." . . . USC is 3-0 against Louisiana Tech in the NCAA tournament.

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