It's not quite the Crusades, although on one side it's a cause with nearly the same fervor, this struggle between the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach. So far, it's been a blowout--L.A. everything, Long Beach nada .
That's the way they assess it at Cal State Long Beach, that commuter school somewhere south of Carson. It's the place where pep rallies consist of honking the car horn on the way out of the parking lot. It's the school, as the joke goes, where most of the alumni join the Navy.
No group feels this geographical slight more than the Long Beach women's basketball team. The 49ers begin play tonight in the NCAA West Regional at the Long Beach Arena. They play Louisiana Tech at 6 p.m., and USC, with Cheryl Miller back in the starting lineup, plays North Carolina at 8:30.
As hosts of the basketball party, Long Beach feels that some of the guests are getting all the attention.
"Sometimes it seems like nothing we do is ever enough, we never get attention," said Faye Paige, a senior guard. "We are really well known in Long Beach, but outside. . . . "
The 49er players say they feel like distant cousins to the the glitzy, telegenic Trojans. USC is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, but for two sweet weeks this season, Long Beach had top billing in the polls.
Little recognition and precious little respect went with it, however.
"It's not a rivalry with the people--it's against the name," said Cindy Brown, the 49ers' star center. "They have a tradition. It's not anything like USC's campus here. But we do get support from the students. Look at our band."
The 49er band, to which Brown was referring, delights in taunting Trojan fans. The band is fond of waving dollar bills and credit cards during USC-Long Beach games.
"Just look at the kind of people who go there," Brown said of USC. "Our kids aren't rich. But we have a successful program. Some people don't even know where Long Beach is. They say, 'Is that in Wyoming?' We want to be recognized--we don't want to be overlooked."
Brown might just as well be talking about herself. Despite averaging 24.4 points and 10.2 rebounds a game, Brown can't seem to pull the spotlight off USC's Cheryl Miller. It was the same two years ago for LaTaunya Pollard, a three-time All American while at Long Beach and now a 49er assistant coach.
"It really helps them (USC) that they have a good football team, a good volleyball team," Paige said. "That gives a school prestige. We are the best team at our school."
Indeed, the Long Beach women's basketball team (29-4) is in postseason play for the seventh consecutive season. Coach Joan Bonvicini says the school doesn't have a chip on its athletic shoulder because of USC's fame, but she adds: It's an incentive to win. I figure we'll get what's our due when we win the big game. You have to win. Sure, USC gets a lot of attention, but they also win. It'll come to us if we win."
In Long Beach's way is No. 6 Louisiana Tech. The Techsters (26-4) have had what Coach Leon Barmore called "the strangest season we've ever had at Tech."
Louisiana Tech was 14-1 when it lost starting forward Nora Lewis, one of the nation's top freshmen. Lewis went in for knee surgery, and Barmore's team went out to lunch.
"We've been erratic," he said. "We can be very good and we can be very, very poor."
Tori Harrison, a 6-4 junior center who has had a strong late-season surge, leads the Techsters in scoring with a 16.4-point average and is tied with Teresa Weatherspoon for most rebounds with a 7.9 e average.
Brown will match up with Harrison, whom she calls "probably one of the strongest centers I have had to guard. She's a tough player."
Meanwhile, top-seeded USC (27-4) faces the No. 16 North Carolina (23-8) in a game that promises to be a battle of the breaks.
Both teams have quick guards and explosive offenses. Pam Leake, a senior guard, leads North Carolina with an average of 21.7 points and the respect of all who play against her.
"When I asked for volunteers to guard Pam, no one raised their hand," USC Coach Linda Sharp said.
No one stepped forward to battle Miller, either, reported North Carolina Coach Jennifer Alley. Miller did not play against Montana last Sunday because of a broken finger on her left hand.
"I've been released by the doctor," Miller said. "We've found a way to tape it so it won't hinder my play. I'm ready."