This year's NCAA women's basketball final between the University of Southern California and Tennessee was supposed to be a romp in the park for the defending champion Lady Trojans.
Well, even though USC streaked well enough in the last five minutes Sunday to win 72-61, the Lady Trojans had trouble with a swarming Tennessee defense that basically took them out of their running game. In fact, the Lady Volunteers, who had lost two regular season meetings by a total of 29 points, actually led 28-26 at halftime.
USC's All-America sophomore Cheryl Miller, who usually takes over in games like this one, deferred instead to the McGee twins, Pam and Paula, who combined for 50 points, 23 rebounds, and 8 blocked shots, during the 68 minutes they spent on court together.
However, Miller did turn a steal late in the game into a key basket at a time when it looked as though Tennessee still had a chance. Meanwhile the graduating McGees, who both hope to make the US Olympic team, ended their four year college careers with an overall won-lost record of 109-18, plus two national titles.
Underdog Tennessee, which played aggressively enough to win and was obviously willing to risk a blowout to make a game of it, got outstanding performances from forwards Mary Ostrowski and Tanya Haave, each of whom scored 18 points.
Said Tennessee's Pat Head Summitt, who will also coach this year's US Olympic team: ''USC has the finest front line in the country (she was referring of course to the McGees and Cheryl Miller). I thought we played very well, but those three never lost their poise.
''The zone defense that we put in for the playoffs nullified a lot of things that the Trojans do best and helped us get a lead. But late in the game, when we turned the ball over three times in crucial situations, there weren't enough minutes left for us to correct our mistakes.''
USC coach Linda Sharp felt that a lot of her team's early problems stemmed from not playing hard enough on defense.
''The two things that eventually won for us were our defense, which picked up noticeably in the second half, plus the experience we were able to draw on from having been in a title game before,'' Sharp explained.