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Spring 1998
That Championship Season
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The undauntable women of the 1978-’79 Bruin hoops team didn’t notice they were making history. They were too busy playing basketball

By Michele Kort ’71, M.B.A. ’75

It was a sloppy game at first, but UCLA managed to pull away 43-33 by the half. The team’s superior balance showed in its scoring stats: 6'1" freshman phenom Denise Curry had 10 points, center-star Heidi Nestor and Anita Ortega each had nine and already-legendary Ann Meyers had eight.

Meanwhile, the University of Maryland’s vaunted 5'-6" senior point guard, Tara Heiss, guarded by Meyers, was held scoreless in the half. As forward Debbie Stewart later told Sports Illustrated, “It seemed UCLA knew our offense better than we did.” In the second half, Heiss finally started scoring. So did 6' 3" center Kris Kirchner, who two nights before in the semifinals had tallied 30 points but now could only manage 18 against Nestor. It was too little too late. NBC announcer Jim Simpson summed it up: “Maryland never got its game going. It’s been UCLA all the way.”

As UCLA clinched its first-ever Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) National Basketball Championship, the 9,531 fans packed into Pauley Pavilion went wild. The Bruin women began cutting down the nets and the band played “Happy Birthday” in honor of Meyers, who was turning 23 the next day. The UCLA band then launched into a rafters-rattling rendition of Queen’s current hit, “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” Frenzied fans seemingly lifted the arena off its foundation.

It may have been that very night the insistent rock tune was inaugurated as the unofficial global anthem of sporting events. For March 25, 1978 was much more than a milestone victory for UCLA or even for the triumphant women cagers, who had long labored under the daunting shadow of 10 men’s championship banners. The women’s banner, raised at the beginning of the next season -- blue letters on gold to set it apart from the men’s gold on blue -- would presently cast its own great shadow on every female hoopster who stepped onto any court and, in a very real sense, on any woman who henceforth walked onto the field of play in any sport in America.


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