After giving her USC teammates and coaches the biggest scare of the season, Cheryl Miller came back to help the Trojans to their biggest win of the season Saturday--a 70-65 upset victory over second-ranked Cal State Long Beach in the Sports Arena.
It seemed as if time stood still for about five minutes of the second half when the USC forward, in pursuit of an errant, full-court pass with 10:14 to play, barrelled into the seats behind the Long Beach basket.
Her momentum carried her over the first row, but she caught her foot on a second-row seat and keeled over behind the third row.
Miller has leaped over press tables and into bleachers before, and she usually bounces back immediately after her landing. But this incident seemed more serious--she didn't get up.
Suddenly, the close, exciting game didn't seem so important to the estimated 7,000 fans, several of whom huddled around the basket to get a closer look at Miller.
Miller sat motionless for a few minutes and appeared to be seriously injured. But then, with her usual Hollywood flair, she sprang up and raced toward the USC bench, to the delight of the crowd.
After a minute in the locker room and three straight Long Beach baskets, which gave the 49ers a 49-47 lead, Miller returned to the game with 8:46 left.
She scored seven points the rest of the way, including four in the final 1:06, and finished with a game-high 23 to help the Trojans send the 49ers to their first Western Collegiate Athletic Assn. loss and snap their 11-game winning streak.
Freshman forward Holly Ford was as responsible as Miller for the Trojan win, making 7 of 10 shots from the floor, most of them long jumpers, and scoring 19 points. Yolanda Fletcher added 12 points for second-place USC (5-2 in the WCAA, 15-6 overall).
Miller also contributed with 15 rebounds, 5 steals and 2 blocked shots, and she felt fortunate to talk about it afterward.
"That was the weirdest feeling I've ever had in my life," she said of her spill, in which she suffered a slightly sprained neck. "I felt numb--like I had no control of my limbs. The trainers said not to move, and I was stuttering. I couldn't talk. Then, I just decided to get up and take care of things."
The Trojans took care of the Long Beach fast break and held the 49ers to 25 points under their nation-leading average of 90. Center Cindy Brown scored 20 points for Long Beach (8-1, 19-2), and guard Jackie White added 18, but neither played an outstanding game by their standards.
Forward Kirsten Cummings, who is averaging 15 points a game, managed just 10 points, all of them in the second half.
Long Beach committed 20 turnovers and seemed to rush its offense. The 49ers forced the fast break when opportunities weren't there, and they threw many passes away.
Once again, Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini walked away from the Sports Arena a loser. Her teams have not beaten the Trojans there since the 1979-80 season.
"I don't know if it was because we were playing here, or what, but we weren't being aggressive today," Bonvicini said. "We were hesitant. We were second-guessing with our shots and passes. That shows a lack of confidence. No one took control of the game today."
Brown had her moments, like when she scored eight straight points in the first half to tie the game, 12-12. But she missed as many inside shots as she made.
Cummings appeared to be finding her touch after Miller's departure, making two shots, but she didn't score again until there were less than two minutes left.