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Talented US women's basketball team in drive toward gold medal

By Phil Elderkin / August 6, 1984



Los Angeles

''What we are is a pressure-type team offensively and defensively,'' explained Pat Head Summit, head coach of the US Women's Basketball Squad that appears en route to the Olympic gold medal. ''We cause other teams to make mistakes and then we turn those mistakes into baskets for ourselves.

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''Part of our preparation in getting here was to work as hard as we could and win as many exhibition games as we could,'' Summit continued. ''The only time we didn't do the job was when we were badly beaten by a men's team. But you can learn, even in defeat, and if we had any false illusions about how good we are, that game straightened us out.''

Basically what Summit has put together is a team of interchangeable parts: changing several of her All-Americans into role players and stressing defense first, offense second. Her substitutions are nearly always based on how much pressure the player coming into the game can put on her opposition.

Among Pat's concerns going into the Olympics was the fact that all five of her team's preliminary round opponents, Australia, Canada, China, South Korea and Yugoslavia, play such diversified brands of basketball. The Americans have had little difficulty so far, however, winning their early games by wide margins to clinch a spot in the gold medal game later this week.

Despite the way Summit's charges have dominated so far, however, Pat isn't taking anything for granted. She just keeps fine-tuning the edges and making sure everyone knows how she wants them to play.

'The point is, if your No. 1 priority is defense, you're more apt to be ready for anything, '' Summit said.

''I think every member of this team knows how important that is and has made that kind of commitment so far. Naturally, there are always adjustments, but if the fundamentals are there the job gets done.''

Summit, who was co-captain of the US Women's Squad that won the silver medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, was assistant coach of the 1980 US team that captured first place in a pre-Olympic tournament in Bulgaria. That was to have been our best women's team ever - and one that was expected to at least extend the Russians at Moscow. Of course that possibility never materialized when the US decided to boycott the Games.

''I was one of the starters on our 1980 Olympic team and I can tell you right now that this year's squad has much more talent,'' volunteered Cindy Noble of the University of Tennessee, who plays off the bench for Summit. ''Not only are we better individually, but we are much stronger defensively. We can beat teams physically, or we can beat them with finesse and, if we should get into foul trouble, we can go to our bench without losing a thing.''

While the word superstar is something that Summit doesn't like to hear, she has a princess of the galaxy in 6 ft. 2 in. forward Cheryl Miller of Southern Cal., who on a basketball court has all the instincts any coach could desire.

Miller, when she is hot offensively, is as much of a threat as NBA scoring champion Adrian Dantley of the Utah Jazz. There is very little that Cheryl can't do, including riding the lanes, shifting the ball from hand-to-hand while still in the air and dunking like a pro. Once, during a 32-minute high school game, she scored 106 points.

This is the most expressive face since Milton Berle began mugging for a living. Once Miller turns on her electric eyes, everyone else in the room dissolves to wallpaper. However this isn't done deliberately, but is simply part of a show-biz personality that obviously belongs in television commercials. Somebody once suggested hot dogs.

Asked during a press conference if she would dunk during the Olympics if the opportunity was there and she thought she could do it, Miler replied that she didn't think so.

''Of course I'd like to do it, but this is pretty serious stuff, and if I missed I'd really feel bad about it,'' Cheryl explained.

She may have been asked not to dunk by Summit, who is more teacher than theatrical producer. Summit also has four other players on the squad (Lynette Woodard, Janice Lawrence, Anne Donovan, and LeaHenry) who have stuffed basketballs at one time or another during their college careers.