The sport may be called women’s college basketball, but there is nothing ladylike about the way Old Dominion University plays the game.
The Lady Monarchs, thanks to their relentless pounding on the offensive backboard, completely outmuscled Georgia Sunday to claim a 70-65 victory and the NCAA championship in front of 7,597 fans in the Frank Erwin Special Events Center.
Old Dominion outrebounded Georgia, 57-30, with a 30-8 advantage on the offensive boards.
The Lady Monarchs scored 24 of their points on follow shots, including 12 by forward Tracy Claxton, who finished with 17 points and 20 rebounds (an NCAA championship-game record) and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
All-American center Medina Dixon added 18 points and 15 rebounds, seven of them offensive, to help Old Dominion earn its third national championship.
Claxton and Dixon alone outrebounded the entire Bulldog team.
“Rebounding takes more heart and concentration than sheer ability,” Lady Monarch Coach Marianne Stanley said. “We have quick jumpers who have long arms, and they kept hammering today.”
Hammering is an appropriate word. Old Dominion has a physical front line of Claxton (6-2, 160 pounds), Dixon (6-2, 165) and Adrienne Goodson (5-11, 150). Dawn Cullen (6-4, 180) and Donna Harrington (6-2, 160) provide even more muscle off the bench.
Rugby enthusiasts would enjoy watching the Lady Monarchs mix it up under the basket. When a shot goes up, there are at least three other players hawking the ball--a regular scrum.
“I let people know that I’m not gonna take anything from nobody,” said Claxton, the most intimidating rebounder of the bunch. “You don’t watch the ball when it goes up, you go get someone on your back. Georgia is a good team, but they weren’t checking out real well.”
Georgia Coach Andy Landers takes the blame.
“Besides Katrina (McClain), we haven’t been a hungry rebounding team because we don’t work on that much in practice,” he said. “They didn’t hit a lot of perimeter shots, but every time we forced a bad shot, they’d step in between us for the rebound.”
Old Dominion (31-3) won’t set any records for its shooting performance in the Final Four. The Lady Monarchs shot 37% in Friday night’s win over Northeast Louisiana and 38% (29 of 76) Sunday.
But when you’re getting two and three shots at the basket and converting those extra attempts from inside, there isn’t a great need to hit those outside jumpers. In fact, just 14 of Old Dominion’s points Sunday came from the outside.
“Our game is rebounding,” Dixon said. “I have to admit, we’re the best rebounding team in the nation, and I think we proved that today.”
Most coaches have said that Georgia (29-5) had the best, overall talent in the country this year, but the Bulldogs couldn’t keep enough of it on the floor Sunday.
All-American guard Teresa Edwards, Georgia’s best player and a member of the U.S. Olympic team last summer, fouled out with 13:23 left. McClain, the team’s center and only real enforcer, fouled out with 5:34 to go.
Forward Janet Harris, an All-American who averages 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, played the entire 40 minutes, but was not much of a factor in the second half.
She scored just five second-half points and failed to assert herself in Edwards’ absence.
Freshman guard Traci Waites filled in admirably for Edwards, scoring a game-high 19 points and keeping the Bulldogs close to the Lady Monarchs with some excellent outside shooting in the second half. But Georgia didn’t have enough punch to overcome Old Dominion.
The lead changed 12 times in the second half until Old Dominion pulled away with six straight points for a 65-59 lead with 2:27 left. Point guard Marie Christian scored seven of the Lady Monarch’s last nine points, including three free throws, to keep Old Dominion in front.
Georgia, leading, 31-22, appeared to be in good shape late in the first half when Dixon left the game with her third foul. But the Bulldogs’ best defensive player, forward Lisa O’Connor, also was on the bench with three fouls.
Advantage Old Dominion.
The Lady Monarchs, who have much more depth than Georgia at the forward position, scored the final eight points of the first half and the first four of the second to take a 34-31 lead.
“That was a critical part of the game, because O’Connor is as important to this team as anyone,” Landers said. “We couldn’t go to the bench much. We put (6-7 center Barbara) Bootz in, and we had three post players trying to run the offense. We lost our continuity.”
Not to mention a chance for Georgia’s first national championship.