On the occasion of its first trip to the Final Four, the Cal State Long Beach women's basketball team shot 38.8%, was out-rebounded by seven and, in the biggest indignity of all, was forced into playing a half-court game. So guess who is not playing in its first NCAA championship game.
Long Beach, a team that had size, speed and depth all season, was made to look like it didn't have much of anything Friday night by a University of Tennessee team that did a fine job of derailing the 49ers' normally explosive transition offense. At the same time, the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. champions were taken out of the running for the national championship, losing, 74-64, at the Erwin Center and sending the Volunteers into Sunday's title game.
Long Beach (33-2) started the game on the wrong foot. On the opening tipoff, Tennessee's Kathy Spinks used one hand to tip the ball and the other to push the 49ers' Cindy Brown. Brown was on her back, and the Volunteers were on their way.
"That's what we call cheap shots," Brown said. "She held me down, and the refs didn't see it.
"That physical a game was ridiculous. A lot of them were unnecessary. Cheap shots, I would call them. That's not considered basketball.
"With corn-fed chicks like that, I was getting bumped by people too much. They (Tennessee) used that to a great advantage."
"I'd just like to say that was the most physical we've played this season," said Volunteer guard Bridgette Gordon, a sophomore who scored 21 points. "There were no cheap shots from Tennessee. We had one thing in mind, and that was to get to the boards. No matter what it takes, we have to get to the boards."
The Volunteers, making their first appearance in the title game since losing to USC in 1984, did that and much more.
The 49ers played a real doughnut of a game--nothing in the middle. Forced outside, they had little success, with Penny Toler hitting 10 of 25 shots and Margaret Mohr 2 of 9. And when they did have an opportunity to go inside, the chances were wasted all too often.
"I thought that early we were forced to play Tennessee style," Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini said. "They (the Volunteers) rebounded very well in the first half. We missed a lot of shots we normally make, and that hurt our confidence and the tempo of the game."
Said Brown, who hit 9 of 20 shots from the floor and finished with 27 points: "We beat ourselves."
The 49ers had their chances. Despite shooting only 37.5% in the first half (12 of 32), they still led at the intermission, 30-28, just four points shy of their worst first-half scoring effort of the season. They also had the momentum with a half-court trap defense and a 14-3 run in the final 5:21. To play so poorly and still be leading had to be something of a positive sign.
That quickly turned sour, too. The second half opened much like the first, with Spinks giving Brown a shove on a short jump shot. No foul, no basket and no more momentum.
"Two possessions and we didn't score," Bonvicini said. "That was a real key."
Instead, Tennessee (27-6) scored the first two baskets to move ahead, 32-30, and followed with a 13-4 streak in a span of 2:22. It ended with the Volunteers leading by five, 45-40, with 12:09 remaining.
Long Beach rallied, but Tennessee responded and grabbed the lead again, 57-55, with 3:59 left. The Volunteers surged again, 7-0, over the next 1:38.
The lead was increased to 10, 68-58, with 1:25 to play, and Long Beach never got closer than eight points. Tennessee, which has defeated three top-five teams (Texas, Auburn and the 49ers) in an up-and-down season, put this one away by making 9 of its last 10 free throws.
The Cindy Brown era at Long Beach ended within that span almost as unceremoniously as the game had started for the two-time All-American--sitting down. She fouled out with 49 seconds remaining, blowing kisses to the 49er fans and raising both arms as she walked off the court.
Women's Final Four Notes Sophomore Penny Toler scored 23 points for Long Beach, making her the only other 49er to score more than four points. . . . Brown tied a semifinal-game record with 18 rebounds. Then-freshman Clarissa Davis set the mark last season against Western Kentucky. . . . The closing remark from Toler: "We'll be back."