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The U.S. women finally rule the international game

Extend the defense, look to run and do it all with a monomaniacal sense of purpose. Coach Kay Yow gave her U.S. women's team much the same charge as John Thompson gave the men, yet the women reached the gold medal game and won it, 77-70 over Yugoslavia. Funny that Yow should do what Thompson does. "Maybe," said forward Andrea Lloyd, "he's doing what she does." How does the song go? "Anything you can do I can do better...."

It certainly helped to have seen how abject the men looked after their loss to the Soviet Union. Yow called them "our other half," and U.S. cocaptain Teresa Edwards said, "Knowing what they were going through, there was no way it was going to happen to us." But the U.S. women had two advantages the men didn't have. Of their dozen players, seven had spent at least one season with a club team in Italy or Japan and were thus wise to the international ways of trapezoidal foul lanes, instant inbounding and fickle referees. Many had also played on Yow's 1986 national team, which twice beat the U.S.S.R. in Moscow to win both the Goodwill Games and the world championships.

Yow has traveled a rough road of late, nearly causing an international incident when she smuggled Bibles into the Soviet Union during one of those 1986 visits. That was nothing, however, compared with her operation for breast cancer in 1987, almost a year after she was named Olympic coach. Yow is a religious woman and she gathered her team in a circle before each game, where they held hands and said the Lord's Prayer.

Then, in the spirit of the precision parachutists in the opening ceremonies in Seoul—the ones who formed the five Olympic rings—Yow's players peeled off on their own flights of individualism during the Games. Cynthia Cooper, who wrote the rap song the team performed on MTV, sparkled in the 102-88 semifinal defeat of the Soviets on Sept. 26, sinking eight of 16 shots. Point guards Suzie McConnell and Teresa Weather-spoon took turns expertly running the team. Anne Donovan, the 6'8" center, a cocaptain and 11-year national-team veteran, was benched early in the Games so the quicker Coop and T-Spoon could force the pace, yet when her size was needed in the championship game, Donovan came in and neutralized the Yugoslavs' 6'7" giantess, Razija Mujanovic. And Katrina (Tree) McClain was a post-up fool throughout, leading the tournament in rebounding, and tying for third in scoring.

But the team's luminous link was Edwards, McClain's old college buddy at Georgia, who plays the two-guard spot. Edwards may be the best player in the world right now. At the very least, she's a spectacular riposte to those who wonder why a woman can't be more like a man. In the gold medal game she strung together a juke drive, a jumper and then a layup from McConnell in transition to stretch an eight-point second-half lead to 12 and put the Yugos away. "She certainly moves through the air," said the man from the Sunday Times of London. "Not related to Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards, I gather."

As they play through their mid-20's, such American women as Edwards, McClain and Cindy Brown, a 6'2" forward who is just as effective outside as in, are taking the game up around the rim—to tips and alley-oops, the last way station before the dunk. No one tried a slam in Seoul, but that's because international rules still insist on a ball the same size as the men's, rather than the slightly smaller one that NCAA folks believe has put more zip in the college game. Pssst—Rutgers is supposed to have a freshman who can slam, and the Lady Knights are planning to call her number on the first play of the season. Piscataway is thataway.

Perhaps most heartening about the American gold is how Yow's team won it without the injured Cheryl Miller, who has been the constant force in U.S. women's hoops through the '80s. "For a long time people have said this couldn't be done unless we had some certain player," said Yow. "When Cheryl hurt her knee, they said that. Before Cheryl there was Lynette Woodard and even Anne. But we have broadened our base of quality players."

The Yugoslav coach, Milan Vasojevic, did prod his team to a better performance than the one it turned in during 101-74 preliminary-round loss to the U.S. He sometimes tugs at his players' jerseys and offers advice while slapping their cheeks, as if he were applying a dab of cologne. "This is a way to concentrate them on what I am saying, nothing else," he explained. Still, his actions caused several American newspapermen to describe him as a Balkan Bob Knight who stops short of throwing chairs. "Is not true!" said Vasojevic. "Once I did throw "a chair!' " As it turns out, he needed to talk to his team but he was out of timeouts and decided to draw a technical.

Like their male counterparts, the American women will remember the Soviets better than they will the Yugoslavs. They'll point to their semifinal with the Soviets as having more profound ramifications. Until the summer of '86 U.S. women's teams had gone 29 frustrating years without beating the U.S.S.R. in a major competition. The first sign of a shift in power occurred in '83. when the U.S. lost at the buzzer in the world championships. The Americans' 23-point win at the Goodwill Games in 1986 led to the retirement of 7'2" Iuliana Semenova—long the dominant player in the international game—because she couldn't keep up with the Americans' up-tempo game. Last week sealed the shift. "For years we were playing catch-up with them," said Donovan. "Now they are studying our transition game. It's such a great feeling, everyone finally playing catchup with us."



Donovan rose to the occasion in the title game, using her size to help beat the Yugoslavians.



Weatherspoon and mates did what the U.S. men could not.



Brown (6) has learned to play alertly inside as well as on the outside.