The staff and players of Ohio State’s women’s basketball team remember the first--and last--time they played Cal State Long Beach. It was a game they would just as soon forget.
It was two years ago at Pauley Pavilion, in the final of the West Regional of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. women’s tournament. The 49ers won, 102-82, and went to the Final Four. The Buckeyes went home.
Fate and the NCAA selection committee have thrown the teams together here, in the East Regional of the postseason tournament.
Long Beach, the region’s No. 2- seeded team, will play No. 3-seeded Ohio State today at 4 p.m., PST, in Western Kentucky University’s E.A. Diddle Arena.
Top-seeded Tennessee will meet Virginia in the second game.
Ohio State Coach Nancy Darsch was in her second season at the school when the Buckeyes were blown out by the 49ers. Asked what she remembered from that game, Darsch scrunched her face as if recalling a particularly bad dream.
“Long Beach is a team of transition and a team of spurts. It seemed like every time I looked at the scoreboard, they were stretching the lead from 10 to 20. This time around, I hope we are a little more experienced and a little more mature.”
Four of Ohio State’s five starters played in that game. The two best players from that team remain--6-foot forward Nikita Lowry and 5-11 guard Lisa Cline. Lowry is averaging 18.5 points per game, and Cline leads the team with a 19.7 average. “We remember the game,” Lowry said. “We all expect Long Beach to run the fast break, just like they did two years ago. We can run if we have to, and we can play halfcourt if we have to.”
Ohio State players and Darsch naturally allude to the Long Beach fast break, run by the backcourt of Penny Toler and Traci Waites. The seventh-ranked 49ers are the nation’s highest-scoring team at 89.6 points per game. Few teams have been able to upset Long Beach’s tempo. “We just want to control the tempo of the game,” Darsch said. “We are just going to have to dig in.”
While other teams key on Toler and Waites, Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini continues to point out her team’s balance. In fact, it has been the emergence of the 49er front line that has helped build the team’s 22-game win streak.
Long Beach is 29-4, and the 14th-ranked Buckeyes are 24-5.
“People talk about our offense,” Bonvicini said, “but it’s our defense that sets the tempo.”
Waites says the team is ready, which for the 49ers means loose, confident players.
“We try to stay relaxed,” Waites said. “We don’t want to treat this like a business. We’re not overconfident. We’re not looking past Ohio State. We just want to go out and play like Long Beach. We want to win.”
Toler put it this way: “Before, we would come to play. Here, we have come to win.”
No doubt Ohio State has made similar plans.
Long Beach senior Cheryl Dowell, who is from Evansville, Ind., said Wednesday that she expects more than 50 family members and friends to make the two-hour drive to the game. Many have never seen her play college ball. “I’ll think about it, but I’ll try not to let it bother me,” Dowell said. . . . Western Kentucky was also expected to play in this regional. School officials said the absence of the Hilltoppers may lead to a small turnout. Estimates Wednesday for the semifinals began at 1,500 for the 12,370-seat arena. . . . The semifinal winners will meet Saturday, with the winner of that game advancing to the the Final Four, March 31-April 2, at Tacoma, Wash.