Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Women find harder road to Final Four

La. Tech coach says basketball better in '90s

The Associated Press

        Louisiana Tech is back in the NCAA Final Four for the third time this decade, a feat coach Leon Barmore thinks is much tougher than it used to be.

        In the 1980s, the Lady Techsters reached the Final Four six times and won two titles. Barmore says women's basketball is “10 times better” now.

        “When you make the Final Four now, you've done something,” Barmore said. “When you win a region like this year, you've won the equivalent to a Final Four 10 years ago. That's how good the game is getting.”

        The Lady Techsters (30-2) defeated third-seeded UCLA 88-62 to win the West Regional on Monday night at the Sports Arena.

        Tech, the West's top seed, will meet Purdue (32-1), the Midwest's top seed, on Friday in San Jose. It's a rematch of last year's Midwest Regional final, which Tech won 72-65. Purdue beat Tech 71-65 in December in West Lafayette, Ind.

        PURDUE: Two years ago, Purdue had a new staff and nine newcomers on its 12- player roster.

        By the end of last season, the Boilermakers were the Big Ten champions, and as the 1998-99 season nears an end, they are the No.1 team in the nation and playing for a possible NCAA title.

        All this with a lame-duck coach.

        Carolyn Peck, who took over when Nell Fortner left to coach the USA National team, led the Boilermakers to the Big Ten tourney title and to the NCAA round of eight last year, then agreed to stay one more season before moving on.

        “The thing I enjoy the most is seeing our players enjoying what they're doing,” said Peck, 33, who next month will become coach and general manager of Orlando's WNBA expansion franchise.

        “It's a great transition from high school to college ... It's a different kind of fun. Watching them learn what the different fun is is the best part.

        GEORGIA: Georgia earned its fifth Final Four trip and third in five years by beating Iowa State in the Mideast Regional finals.

        The last time it reached the Final Four (1996), Georgia lost to Tennessee in the championship game. Pam Irwin-Osbolt is the only Georgia player still around from that team.

        “I think it's better this time, because nobody expected us to be there,” Irwin-Osbolt said. “It wasn't like three years ago when we were No.1 in the country. I remember looking up and watching Saudia Roundtree cutting down the net and wondering if I would ever do that.

        DUKE: Duke became the story of the tournament when it beat Tennessee 69-63 on Monday in the East Regional finals at Greensboro, N.C. It will be the first Final Four since 1994 without Rocky Top blaring through the arena.

        “Our goal was not to beat Tennessee, and our goal was not to get to the Final Four,” Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. “Our goal from day one has always been to win the national championship.”

        Duke lost three of its first four games, but the Blue Devils righted themselves quickly and won the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Now Duke is the first school since Georgia in 1983 to land its men's and women's teams in the Final Four.