Aztecs Are Stunned in Midwest Regional

Times Staff Writer

It took Louisiana Tech only one minute to take San Diego State and most of the crowd at Ewing Coliseum out of the game on Friday night.

With the Northeast Louisiana fans rooting against their arch-rivals and shouting, "Here We Go Aztecs," the Techsters scored the first seven points in 60 seconds.

From that point, the anti-Tech members of the crowd of 6,850 were quiet and the Aztecs were stunned.

Led by guard Pam Gant's game-high 26 points, the Techsters cruised to a 94-64 victory in a second-round NCAA Midwest Regional game.

In the first half, Louisiana Tech outshot the Aztecs from the field, 57% to 31%, and outrebounded them, 29-15, to take a 43-25 halftime lead.

After that, the Techsters never allowed the Aztecs to get closer than 13 points, and that was at 44-31 early in the second half.

The Techsters (29-3) will face Northeast Louisiana (29-1) in the Midwest Regional championship game Sunday afternoon at Ewing Coliseum. The Indians defeated Auburn, 76-71, in Friday's opening game to advance to the finals.

While Auburn gave the Indians some nervous moments in the first game, the Aztecs were merely the other team on the floor in the second game.

Gant, who showed why she is one of the best guards in women's college basketball, hit an 18-footer from the left side of the key to make it 2-0.

Center Tori Harrison, the inside force in the Techsters' unstoppable inside-outside combination, scored a layup, was fouled, and hit a free throw to make it 5-0. Two seconds later, guard Teresa Weatherspoon stole the inbound pass and scored on a layup to make it 7-0.

"When they scored that first basket, that was fine," Aztec forward Dee Dee Duncan said. "When they scored that second basket, it was OK. But when they hit that third basket, it was a mental shock."

A shock that from which the Aztecs never recovered.

"I think their quick start set the tempo for the game," Aztec Coach Earnest Riggins said. "A tournament game like this is played on emotional highs, and that took something out of us."

It not only took the life out of a young Aztec team. The fast start enabled the Lady Techsters to play loose.

Gant admitted that the Techsters were not loose coming into the game. After all, it had been an emotionally trying week for them.

Earlier this week, longtime Louisiana Tech Coach Sonja Hogg announced that she would retire at the end of the season.

"That hit us hard when she first told us," Gant said. "We just kept telling ourselves to concentrate on playing our game. We really wanted to go out fast and execute well.

"We started running well and scoring well. The first half was fun because it's always better to play relaxed."

Even though they felt relaxed, the businesslike Techsters never took off their game faces.

That was particularly true of Gant, who hit 13 of 18 shots in only 21 minutes of play.

"The players on their team have no attitude," Paula Perczynski said. "Pam wouldn't even look at anyone else when she was on the court."

Gant has been hitting long jump shots in college for two years, but Perczynski believes she's seen that smooth jumper for an eternity. Perczynski guarded Gant on numerous occasions when she played for Romeoville High in Romeoville, Illinois, and Gant played for Joliet High.

"She played the same way then," said Perczynski. "I knew she was good back then, and then I knew she was really good where a lot of people started recruiting her."

Perczynski said Gant was also "unstoppable" in high school.

On Friday night, center Tori Harrison was also unstoppable. She hit 10 of 16 shots to score 24 points. Harrison also added eight rebounds, and was one of the main reasons the Techsters outrebounded the Aztecs, 52-35.

"We didn't control the boards the way we had hoped to," Riggins said. "And they forced us out of our offense. We could not open things up inside, and we could not get the shots we wanted for Penny (Toler)."

Duncan hit 10 of 23 shots from the field to lead the Aztecs. Perczynski had 12 points, and was the only other Aztec to score in double figures. Shelda Arceneaux scored only six points, and Toler hit just 4 of 15 shots from the field and finished with nine points.

"It seemed like we couldn't shoot the ball into the Pacific Ocean and we were standing on the edge," Toler said. "And when the shots didn't fall, everybody got a little discouraged."

So, for the second season in a row, the Aztecs (21-9) lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Last year, Cal State Long Beach beat them, 91-73.

For the past two years, the Aztecs have been eliminated by a more experienced team. This season, they were also beaten by a healthier team.

Both Arceneaux (sprained right knee) and center Toni Wallace (dislocated right shoulder) played hurt, and reserve forward Inca Harvey missed the game with torn ligaments in her right ankle.

And most importantly, SDSU had to play without star forward Tina Hutchinson, out for the season when she underwent reconstructive surgery on her left knee on March 12.

It's no surprise that the Techsters immediately went to the end of the Aztec bench to shake Hutchinson's hand after the game. They probably realized that it might have been a different story with her in there.

Then again, it might not have.

"If they play the way they did tonight during the rest of the tournament, they could be the No. 1 team in the country," Riggins said.

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