ODU holds off Florida's late rally Top-seeded Lady Monarchs going to Final Four, 53-51

Women's Mideast Regional

March 25, 1997|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Its campus is located near the Norfolk, Va., waterfront, so it's entirely appropriate for the Old Dominion women's basketball team to have adopted a nautical theme for its season.

And with 20 seconds left in last night's Mideast Regional final, a two-point lead over No. 7 Florida and three starters with four fouls each facing a possible overtime, the second-ranked Lady Monarchs' hopes of reaching the Final Four seemed to be in danger of taking on water.

But the top-seeded Lady Monarchs' oft-maligned bench came through and Florida guard Dana Smith's 8-foot jumper bounded long off the rim with five seconds to go.

As a result, Old Dominion will set sail for the national semifinals with a 53-51 win over the third-seeded Lady Gators.

"At the very beginning of the year, we talked about how we didn't come in the same boat, but that this basketball team would be in the same ship for about the next six months," said coach Wendy Larry, whose team will face Stanford Friday. "We also talked about different people having to pilot the boat. Certainly tonight was indicative of our bench, which has been questioned, really coming through."

Indeed, without the bench, and in particular, reserve guard Aubrey Eblin, who had 15 points, including three three-pointers and six free throws, awarded when she was fouled attempting threes, the Lady Monarchs (33-1) might well have gone aground.

Eblin, a 5-foot-7 sophomore whose Williamsport, Ohio, home is an hour from Cincinnati, where the Final Four will be played next weekend, mused about the prospects of her being the driving force in pointing her team to a title.

"Only in my dreams. Last year, when we lost to Virginia, [assistant] Coach [Alisa] Scott, said, 'Next year, we're going to Cincinnati, and we're taking you home,' " said Eblin. "With the help of every single person on this team, we get to fulfill all our dreams."

The Lady Monarchs, the nation's leading offensive machine, won their 32nd straight game with possibly their worst offensive performance of the year, coming in 33 points below average. Both teams were held scoreless for stretches, thanks to brilliant defense.

The Lady Gators (24-9) went scoreless for six minutes in the middle of the second half, when Old Dominion stretched a six-point lead into 14 with 6: 35 to go.

During most of that span, Florida center DeLisha Milton, a first-team All-American and the Southeastern Conference's Player of the Year, went to the bench with four fouls.

However, once Milton, who finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds, returned with 7: 17 to go, Florida picked up its defensive intensity and found a reliable source on offense. Milton converted a three-point play with 6: 28 remaining, and her presence opened opportunities for her teammates.

Smith's three-pointer with 1: 29 to go pulled Florida to within two and had the Lady Monarchs, who themselves failed to score for the final 6: 35, back on their heels.

"We stopped playing offense and attacking and started playing not to lose," said senior point guard Ticha Penicheiro.

Penicheiro, an All-American and the spiritual leader of the Lady Monarchs, had another sub-par game, hitting four of 11 shots. Penicheiro failed to convert the front end of a one-and-one with 20.6 seconds left that would have clinched the game, the second time in a week that the Portuguese native, a 66 percent free-throw shooter, had come up dry in a game-winning situation.

However, the Lady Monarchs relied on their defense, which choked off entry passes to Milton, forcing Smith, who had made one of her previous eight shots -- the three-pointer -- to take the shot.

"We wanted to tie the game, take it into overtime and hope our conditioning would take us, but it didn't work out," said Smith.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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