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Riding High Again, Bruins Will Honor Greats From Past

Women's basketball: Close to securing first NCAA tournament berth in six years, school will laud 1978 national championship team today against USC.

February 21, 1998|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a season when it appears the UCLA women's basketball team will make its first NCAA tournament appearance in six years, the school will honor its only national women's championship team today.

On March 25, 1978, Ann Meyers, Anita Ortega and Denise Curry led UCLA to a 90-74 win over Maryland to give the Bruins the Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national title. The AIAW governed women's collegiate sports before the NCAA took over in 1982.

That 1978 team, plus other standout players from the past--including current ABL scoring and rebounding champion Natalie Williams (1994)--will be honored at halftime of today's 2 p.m. USC-UCLA game.

The 1997-98 Bruins could all but wrap up a tournament bid today. With five conference games remaining, they're 10-3 in the Pacific 10, tied for second with Oregon. Stanford leads at 11-1.

USC is 5-8 and trying to atone for its 68-64 loss to UCLA on Jan. 23.

Meyers, today an NBC/WNBA broadcaster, was the first female athlete to be awarded an athletic scholarship at UCLA. She became a four-year All-American and was the first woman enshrined in the national basketball Hall of Fame.

After 20 seasons, she says, the college game has reached heights no one in 1978 could have foreseen.

"The depth of talent in the college game, I guess, is the biggest change," she said.

"It's like comparing today's NBA to the 1940s or '50s. When I played, we'd see one to three outstanding players on the other team. Now it's a half-dozen, almost every game.

"There's a combination of reasons. For one thing, the best coaches in the women's game have been at it now a long time. Title IX in 1972 has a lot to do with it. There are lots of scholarships, more media exposure and two pro leagues."

One thing hasn't changed since 1978--poor attendance at UCLA and USC women's games in Los Angeles. The crowd that saw UCLA win its national championship was 9,351, still the largest to see a UCLA women's game at Pauley Pavilion.

Meyers' team that season finished 27-3 and won its last 21 games, including tournament wins over Long Beach State (79-78), Stephen F. Austin (86-60), Stanford (80-54) and, in the national semifinal, Montclair State (85-77).

Twenty years later, Meyers stands fourth on UCLA's career scoring chart, at 17.4 points per game. Curry is the all-time leading UCLA scorer with 24.6 points per game, ahead of Rehema Stephens (21.7), Williams (20.4) and Meyers.

Today's honorees:

Debbie Willie-Haliday (1978-81), Tam Breckenridge (1977-78), Janet Hopkins (1978-81), Nicole Anderson (1990-93), Anne Dean-Gardner (1983-86), Dora Dome (1985-88), Mary Hegarty (1981-84), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1981-85), Dr. Karen Nash (1975-77), Rehema Stephens (1990-92), Necie Thompson (1981-83), Sandra VanEmbricqs (1987-90), Natalie Williams (1991-94), Ann Meyers (1975-78), Denise Curry (1978-81), Dianne Frierson-Fowler (1977-80), Rive "Heidi" Nestor (1976-78), Beth Moore (1976-79), Denise Corlett (1977-80), coach Billie Moore (1977-1993).

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