The day C. Vivian Stringer led Cheyney, the first HBCU, to the inaugural NCAA women’s basketball championship game
The Wolves came in on a 23-game winning streak but fell to Louisiana Tech
The championship game for the NCAA’s first Division I women’s basketball tournament was a matchup between C. Vivian Stringer’s Cheyney University, the country’s first historically black college or university (HBCU), and top-ranked Louisiana Tech.
A sellout crowd at the Norfolk Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia, and a CBS television audience watched on March 28, 1982, as the Wolves, with their 23-game winning streak, took on the Lady Techsters, the winners of the former national championship tournament, administered by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
Despite leading 22-18 with 7:37 left in the first half, Cheyney went through a dry spell that lasted until 2:58 before halftime. Louisiana Tech went on a 16-point spree to end the half and ultimately finished with a 76-62 victory over the Wolves. Cheyney’s Valerie Walker scored 14 of her 20 points in the second half, while Debra Walker contributed 12. (The two are not related.) Cheyney (28-3) closed the deficit to eight points, but that was as close as the Wolves would get.
”Cold spells are typical for us,” Stringer, whose team was making its first appearance in the Final Four, told United Press International. ”I was hoping the cold spell would forget to come, but it did come. We felt we were dictating the game defensively, but offensively, the shots weren’t dropping the way they should.
”In that dry spell, both Walkers were out with foul trouble. When our big people are in trouble, we’re in trouble.”
Stringer called timeouts and made substitutions during the scoring drought, but nothing brought the offense back to life against Tech’s suffocating defense. The Lady Techsters shot 25 free throws, making 16, while Cheyney had just seven attempts, connecting on six. Tech shot 55 percent from the floor, while the Wolves hit only 43 percent of their field goal attempts.
”We’ve been down early before, but not to a team as good as Cheyney,” said Tech assistant coach Leon Barmore. “The thing was, our kids just wouldn’t let this slip away.”
Kim Mulkey, the current head coach of Baylor, kick-started the Lady Techsters’ scoring run with two buckets and then assisted on two more scores. Tech (35-1) went into halftime with a 40-26 lead.
Janice Lawrence scored 20 points for Tech (35-1). Debra Rodman and Pam Kelly each scored 14. Rodman’s and Kelly’s work on the boards was crucial to the Lady Techsters’ ability to stay in front. Tech won the rebounding battle, 38-30, with Rodman pulling down 11 rebounds and Kelly hauling in 10.
Barmore said swapping in 6-foot-2 Rodman for Kelly started the Lady Techsters’ surge.
Said Stringer: ”One of the things that makes Tech so great is that they do have depth. We don’t have the big people to keep bringing in. We substituted small, and they substituted big.”
Stringer, who went on to coach at Iowa and has been head coach at Rutgers since 1995, is three wins away from becoming the first black coach to win 1,000 college basketball games. Cheyney just announced that it is dropping its NCAA Division II status.