There are some things, like a mixed drink, that you simply can't get in Ruston, La. But if you were hankering to make a little money and had a notion that the Louisiana Tech women were going to lose, you could get some pretty good odds. "You come here and put down $10 on us losing tonight," said co-Coach Leon Barmore before the No. 1 Lady Techsters' 81-56 thumping of Stephen F. Austin State last Friday, "and you could end up a millionaire."
The odds, of course, would have been longer than 25-1, which was Louisiana Tech's won-lost record through Sunday; its only blemish was an early-season loss to Southern Cal, the preseason choice to be No. 1 in women's basketball. Indeed, they'd have been longer than 94-2, which was Tech's record over its last 96 games. The Lady Techsters have won two straight national titles, and this season they're bidding to do what no team has done since Immaculata and Delta State each won three in a row during the salad days of women's basketball. The folks in Ruston could be watching a dynasty in the making.
Certainly they're no longer watching Dynasty, which is what the Tech women's basketball program resembled for a while. Barmore had actually run the team for six seasons as the "associate head coach" but had always been given second billing to Sonja Hogg, the head coach. At one point last season he groused publicly (SI, April 5, 1982) about how "I hit the home runs and Sonja gets to circle the bases." But he was awarded titular parity with Hogg over the summer, and now that they're official co-head coaches, all's smooth. Hogg recruits, designs the uniforms, makes the TV appearances and counsels the players. Barmore just coaches. "Normally I wouldn't recommend co-coaches or co-anything," he says. "What if we had co-Presidents? But the way this situation has evolved it's the best for us. Sonja is excellent at recruiting, and I don't get excited about it. She doesn't give a rip about the pick-and-roll or the down screen, and that's what I get excited about."
Except for a rank competitiveness, the two have nothing in common. "Miss Hogg," as the players call her, will make you a lady; "Coach Barmore" will make you a winner. Hogg provides the style, Barmore, the bile.
When a group of women petitioned Louisiana Tech President F. Jay Taylor to start a basketball team in 1974, he drafted Hogg, then a phys ed instructor supervising the pompon girls at Ruston High. "The first day on the job she was in my office asking what to order," recalls Barmore, who was coaching the high school boys' team. "I had a free period every afternoon from one to two, and Sonja would come by all that first year to talk." Despite a measly $5,000 budget, only four home games and a 5'9" center, Hogg went 13-9 with a bunch she refused to call the Lady Bulldogs, after the Louisiana Tech men's nickname, "because a lady dog is a bitch."
After three seasons of lunch-hour consultations, Barmore formally joined Hogg's staff. "At first I read all these books on the psychology of women," he says. "But I finally said, enough. I'm just going to be me. With the women, I suppose that out of 10 comments I make I'll want nine to be positive, and the one negative one to really work. With the guys, everything would be negative."
Barmore's system is a meticulous one. "We're so organized," says senior Jennifer White, a regular at guard for four years. "We have certain places to sit on the bench and stand in the huddle. He knows I'll be over his left shoulder." Tech excels on defense, holding opponents to sub-50% shooting from the field in 146 of its last 149 games and fewer than 80 points in 125 consecutive games. The stopper on D is Forward Lori Scott, who sticks to the opposition's top scorer like spackling compound. So far this season she has held such stars as Cheryl Miller of USC, La Taunya Pollard of Long Beach State and Medina Dixon of Old Dominion to less than their averages.
The Lady Techsters run an "inside-out" offense, playing a double post with 6'3" Janice Lawrence and 6'2" Debra Rodman. White, Scott, Point Guard Kim Mulkey and Forward Pam Gant are allowed to let it fly from the outside only when the 30-second shot clock has run down. Last season the inside game was so efficient that Center Pam Kelly, then a senior, won The Wade Trophy as the nation's outstanding woman player, despite averaging only 23 minutes a game. This season the system may do the same for Lawrence, who is getting 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds. "Janice is the best athlete they have," says Andy Russo, Tech's men's coach. "She's lithe and quick and a good jumper."
At 5'4", the pigtailed Mulkey, who hails from Hammond, La., is the Norma Rae of women's basketball. One moment she'll be thanking a local sportswriter for calling her "the Hammond Honey" because the moniker has improved her love life; the next she'll joke about the scar on her back, the result of an uncalled charging foul she took against the U.S.S.R.'s 7-foot Uliana Semenova. This happened in an All-Star Game last summer in which the U.S. dealt the Soviets their first loss in 24 years. Last Wednesday night, as Tech beat Alcorn State 84-50 at the Lady Braves' own "scalping grounds," Mulkey whipped a behind-the-back pass to Scott for a layup, leaving opponents standing around gawking and causing the Alcorn fans to break out in a rash of high fives.
The Lady Techsters' following isn't quite so funky, but it's just as given to passion. While the Techsters were in Southern California last month, paying back (58-56) the Trojan Women for that one loss, an error resulted in TV stations' cutting to Hee Haw with 3½ minutes left in the game. In Shreveport and Monroe, stations logged hundreds of irate calls. Now that the men's team, led by Forward Karl Malone, is tied for the Southland Conference lead, it no longer has to fight its way onto the court through a mass exodus after the women's game has ended. But in spite of comparable $200,000-plus budgets, when the two teams play on separate dates the women still draw more fans. A typical Lady Techster crowd might feature Ruston native and L.A. Ram Quarterback Bert Jones or Gulf Oil Chairman James Lee, along with legions of elderly couples and prepubescent girls who wear pigtails in honor of Mulkey.
Mulkey has a white Corvette with vanity plates reading KIM—20; Lawrence and White each drive Cutlasses. "They're all spoiled," says Hogg, who has a Corvette of her own in which to recruit. "But we demand a lot of them, and they deserve rewards. Before Kim's father bought her that car, he called and asked if I thought it was a good idea. I said if I had a daughter who'd been such an outstanding athlete and student through high school and gotten herself a full scholarship, I couldn't buy her one quick enough."
Hogg knows exactly the type of woman she's trying to develop. A Lady Techster dresses for success. "We always have to look like ladies," says Mulkey. "Sometimes it's a pain, but if you want to be a national champion, you have to look like one." A Lady Techster dives for loose balls—Barmore sees to that—but she doesn't wear knee or elbow pads. "They don't look good," says White.
And if she gets inside position, a Lady Techster's going to keep it. When Kelly was dating Malone last season, he kept hearing she had phoned women she'd seen talking to him, warning them off. Still, the girls have an eye out for ladylike role models. Three years ago four freshman teammates were asked to name a woman who would make a good U.S. President. One of them chose Hogg. The other three picked Anita Bryant.
They do serve orange juice in Ruston, Louisiana.
The 5'4" Mulkey is not short on talent.