In Women's Basketball, You Can Put Your Bucks on the Broncos

Times Staff Writer

It might be premature to label the Cal Poly Pomona women's basketball team a dynasty.

That kind of talk usually is reserved for teams like the UCLA men's basketball program from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s.

But in NCAA Division II circles, the Broncos may be the next best thing. Since the division was formed five years ago, Pomona certainly has been the clear-cut power.

It has reached the final four in four of the five years, won two national titles and finished second once. No other team has come close to that record.

So it is no surprise that the Broncos, ranked No. 1 in Division II all season, are favored to make it three championships in five years when they compete in the NCAA Division II Final Four Tournament that starts today at the Springfield, Mass., Civic Center.

A Powerful Opponent

Pomona, which won the title last year and has a 21-game winning streak and 28-3 record this season, will face Delta State of Cleveland, Miss., in its semifinal game at 5:35 p.m. (PST) today. Philadelphia Textile (24-5) faces North Dakota State (23-8) at 3:05. The winners meet for the championship at 3:05 Saturday.

There is more than one fan calling the Pomona-Delta State game the "real" championship clash. That is understandable considering that Delta State has a 28-2 record, a 14-game winning streak and a basketball tradition to match.

Until this year, the Lady Statesmen were a Division I team--and a pretty good one, too. Delta State was one of the first powerhouses in the sport, winning three straight national championships from 1975-77.

"They've got a lot of Division I (caliber) players because that is how they recruited them a few years ago," said Pomona Coach Darlene May.

Outstanding Scorer

The Lady Statesmen are led by 6-2 senior center Delinda Samuel, fifth best scorer in Division I last year and No. 5 in Division II this season. Samuel averages 23.2 points and 11.3 rebounds a game.

Delta State leads Division II with an average of 89.9 points a game.

"Delta State is a scoring machine," May said. "They really outsize us inside. They have experienced good competition and have a great reputation in basketball."

The Lady Statesmen, who have a 7-1 record against Division I teams this season, also count on 5-8 junior forward Burnadette McDonald, who averages 16.5 points, and 5-8 senior guard Vickie Jackson, who averages 12.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

Of course, the Broncos do not have to take a back seat to Delta State when it comes to reputation or talent.

Pomona's Best Team?

Not with All-American center Vickie Mitchell, a 6-0 senior; junior point guard Michelle McCoy (5-6) and junior forward Debra Larsen (5-10).

"I don't know if this is the best team we've had, but it ranks right up with them," said May, who holds the Division II record of 310 victories and 78 defeats in 11 years.

Mitchell, who averages 15 points and 11.3 rebounds, is the undisputed offensive leader for Pomona.

"She is just so quick and she has an uncanny way of getting to the basketball," May said. "We call her 'Sticky Fingers' because she always seems to have her hands on the ball."

May says there is a noticeable difference between the Broncos of last season and this season. "Last year's team was probably a little better defensively than this year," she said. "This year we're quicker and can run the ball much better. We're just not as big."

Praise for McCoy

The coach said that much of the credit for the quickness goes to McCoy, a transfer who was starting point guard at UCLA two years ago. McCoy, the floor leader, is averaging 12.3 points and 5.6 assists.

How has the quickness helped the Broncos?

"It gives you a whole new dimension," May said. "It opens up your whole game. I think this year's team would have run last year's team off the court."

Pomona has also benefited by having Larsen, a transfer from USC who became a starter after becoming eligible in the middle of last season, in its lineup for a full season. Larsen averages 13.4 points and 8.2 rebounds, second on the team in both categories.

The Broncos, who have won 33 straight games against Division II teams since losing to Chapman on Jan. 17, 1985, also start 6-0 senior forward Debbie Flett and 5-8 guard Violet Palmer.

Easy Playoff Victories

Apparently Pomona and Delta State are peaking for the game. Pomona has rolled over Cal State Northridge (66-46) and Bellarmine of Kentucky (83-49) in the playoffs, and Delta State has looked strong in postseason triumphs over Clark (100-54), Florida International (93-64) and Hampton Institute of Virginia (82-61).

"We're playing a lot better now," Pomona's McCoy said. "We know it's an important part of the season and we're playing like it. Early in the season, after we lost three games to Division I teams (USC, Oregon and Utah), we knew we were going to go to the championship, and that's been our goal all along."

McCoy, a prep All-American, said a championship would be the highlight of her college career.

"I've been in college four years and I've never been close to being in a championship game," she said. "I figured that if we were going to make the finals it would have to be this year."

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