- Melanie Jackson, Women's Basketball and Women's Soccer
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Editor's note: As the NCAA celebrates its 25th season of women's basketball, ESPN and ESPN.com count down the top 25 moments of NCAA Tournament history. Here, we continue the countdown with memorable NCAA moment No. 23, Old Dominion's 15-point comeback to beat Stanford in the 1997 national semifinals.
Old Dominion had scored a win over Stanford just three months earlier.
But this time, in the 1997 national semifinals, the Lady Monarchs were one half away from landing on the losing end. Never mind that 17-point rout of the Cardinal 12 weeks ago. Never mind ODU's 36-point average margin of victory that season. Never mind that the Lady Monarchs entered the Final Four on a 32-game winning streak.
When you're down, you're down. And when you're down by 15 points halfway through the first half and Stanford star Kate Starbird is only getting warmed up, you're out, right? At that point, Starbird had more points (17) than the entire Lady Monarchs roster (16).
"People in the stands were like, 'This is going to be a blowout,'" Old Dominion point guard Ticha Penicheiro told the Kentucky Post after the game. "But I had faith in my teammates."
So did Lady Monarchs coach Wendy Larry. Trouble is, what kind of pep talk do you give to a bunch of 20-year-old All-Americans who've heard it all already?
Apparently, you do the "Dumbo" approach.
"How do you eat an elephant?" Larry calmly asked her players during a timeout.
The Lady Monarchs might have been amused. They might have wanted to laugh. But as Larry's stare continued to drive a hole into them, they just waited for the answer.
"Piece by piece," Larry said. "And that's what we're going to do."
Point taken. By the time the halftime whistle blew, Old Dominion had reeled off seven unanswered points, punctuated with a Penicheiro three-point play, to cut the lead to seven, 37-30.
Larry struck again during the break. According to a story in the Kentucky Post, her instructions this time were a tad more traditional: Stop Starbird, who had scored 21 first-half points, and get forward Clarisse Machanguana involved. The All-American averaged 20 points that season but attempted just one shot and was held scoreless in the first half.
That changed almost as soon as the second half started. Machanguana hit three straight layups to score the first six points after the break, spearheading an 8-0 run that gave ODU a one-point edge. After that, the teams traded the lead several more times before the game went to overtime, where Penicheiro and her athleticism took over.
Her "one-hander running toward the right baseline tied the score with 1:28 left, and she was fouled on another attempted acrobatic shot with 50 seconds" to play, Mike Bass wrote in the Kentucky Post. Making the first foul shot, Penicheiro scored what ended up being the game winner, though after missing the front end of a one-and-one with 23.5 seconds left, ODU fans held their breath as Stanford clanged three shots in the last 10 seconds that could have won it.
Instead, Old Dominion set a Final Four record in overcoming a 15-point deficit (a record that stood until Michigan State came back from a 16-point deficit to beat Tennessee in last season's national semifinals). Both of Stanford's losses that season were against the Lady Monarchs.
Penicheiro tied Machanguana with a team-high 18 points, adding five rebounds and six assists. Starbird added just five points, all on free throws, after the break. She was 7-of-8 from the field and had made 4-of-5 3-pointers in the first half. But with Penicheiro and Mery Andrade tightening up their defense in the second, Starbird went 0-of-6 from the field after intermission. The Cardinal shot 50 percent for the game but finished with 29 turnovers.
The most amazing stat, however, was that ODU completed the comeback with two starters, Andrade and center Nyree Roberts, on the bench after they fouled out late in the second half.
''This basketball team never ceases to amaze me,'' Larry said afterward in the Kentucky Post. ''They continually find a way to win, and when they go down 15, they don't die. They fight back. And then they have enough to go into overtime, with two starters sitting on the bench, and the bench has the heart to love the battle and make it happen.''
ESPN's Nancy Lieberman, an Old Dominion alumna who was a sideline reporter for the game, overheard Larry's elephant analogy, and still credits the unusual approach for kick-starting ODU's comeback.
"If you're a player, you already know you're screwing up, and for a coach to get in your face at the Final Four isn't always the best way to go about it," Lieberman said. "But Wendy Larry really handled it well. There was no doubt coming out of that timeout that her players had a sense of the moment and understood what they had to do."
Moment No. 22 will be unveiled Jan. 30, during the first half of ESPN2's Big Monday game between Baylor and LSU.
14dBonnie D. Ford