Women's Final Four features speed to burn

April 02, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

RICHMOND, Va. -- One of the chief criticisms of women's basketball, from those who compare it to the men's version, is that it is a slower game, despite a shorter shot clock.

There should be no such criticism of today's women's Final Four.

All four teams -- Alabama and Louisiana Tech, which meet in the first semifinal, and Purdue and North Carolina, which play in the second game -- have an abundance of speed and aren't afraid to use it.

Alabama coach Rick Moody calls himself a disciple of Rick Pitino and Paul Westhead. His team has the offensive statistics to prove it, scoring 85 points or more in 16 games this season -- winning all of them, including a 99-77 drubbing of Louisiana Tech mid-December.

"The last several games that we have played, we have been one of the more exciting teams that I have ever coached," said Moody. "Lots of times, I'd have rather had a ticket to watch the game. We want to run the basketball on every single opportunity that we get."

Then there's North Carolina, which beat Alabama, 89-83, in late December. The Tar Heels have a collection of fliers, but none faster than freshman guard Marion Jones, a world-class sprinter who wasn't recruited by many basketball coaches.

"To all the critics who said I should concentrate on one sport [track], I say, Carolina is in the Final Four and they're not," said Jones.

Coping with the opposition's quickness will be a key to both semifinals but not the only route to tomorrow's championship game.

Louisiana Tech (30-3) has won 24 straight. In the loss to Alabama, the Techsters allowed the most points in the program's history. The Crimson Tide simply outran them, with 58 points in a 17-minute span of the second half.

Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore is both the only coach in this year's Final Four to reach this level and the only man to coach an NCAA women's national championship team. Of that loss, he said: "Somewhere along the way, our team did two things. The conditioning wasn't there and they quit. We're aware they [Alabama] can score against anyone in the country. So, if we don't get back in transition, then our plane will leave [today] somewhere around 6 o'clock."

Meanwhile, Moody's challenge is to get his team to forget December's game. Since then, the Techsters clearly have found a successful formula, especially on the perimeter. Louisiana Tech, which knocked off top-ranked Tennessee and Southern California in the Mideast Regional, is shooting 43 percent from three-point range for the tournament, a marked improvement from its 37 percent figure in the regular season.

"They are playing so much more aggressively," said Moody. "Now, they are creating a lot more opportunities for the great shooters that they have. They are playing with so much more confidence and greater intensity."

In the second semifinal, North Carolina (31-2) and Purdue (29-4) will present each other with mirror images -- teams that like to mix it up down low when the running game is not available.

"In most of our games this year, we have been the most athletic team -- bigger and stronger," said Purdue guard Cindy Lamping. "North Carolina is a lot like us in that respect. I don't know if we've faced a team as athletic as they are, except maybe in practice."

The Boilermakers -- who won the Big Ten title and beat Stanford last Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif., for the West Regional championship -- have no one who can match North Carolina guard Tonya Sampson's blend of strength and quickness.

"We've got some challenges as far as who's going to guard her because she's big, she's strong, she's quick," said Purdue coach Lin Dunn. "She can also shoot the three and she can post up. Plus she's a senior, so she's highly motivated."

But Purdue, which has no seniors, has a distinct advantage inside. The Boilermakers out-rebounded opponents by nearly nine per game and feature four post players who average at least 12 minutes.

ALABAMA (26-6) vs. LOUISIANA TECH (30-3)

Time: Noon

Site: Richmond (Va.) Coliseum

TV: Channels 11, 9

Outlook: The Techsters must limit Alabama's transition and three-point opportunities and be able run at will, which they failed to do in their December meeting, when the Crimson Tide romped by 22 in Tuscaloosa. Both teams use three-guard sets, making backcourt play a key. Louisiana Tech's guards -- Vickie Johnson, Pam Thomas and Debra Williams -- average 37.8 points, 46 percent of the team's offense. Alabama's guards -- All-American Niesa Johnson, Betsy Harris and Madonna Thompson -- have hit 34 percent of their 521 three-pointers.

NORTH CAROLINA (31-2) vs. PURDUE (29-4)

Time: Approximately 2:30 p.m.

Site: Richmond (Va.) Coliseum

TV: Channels 11, 9

Outlook: The Tar Heels, who won impressively last weekend in the East Regionals over Vanderbilt and Connecticut, will have their hands full with a Purdue team that is as athletic and physical and a bit deeper than they are. Purdue freshman C Leslie Johnson is expected to draw the defensive attention of C Sylvia Crawley and F Charlotte Smith, who are each about 50 pounds lighter than Johnson. Boilermakers G Jennifer Jacoby will need help stopping Tar Heels All-American Tonya Sampson, who is averaging 21.8 points in the tournament.

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