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That Championship Season

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Spring 1998
That Championship Season
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The Bruins-Cal State L.B. game is still considered one of the most remarkable contests UCLA has ever fought. Its hero was Anita Ortega. With five seconds on the clock, Long Beach in possession and the Bruins down 74-72 on their way to another heartbreaking postseason defeat, the Juice stole the ball and raced for a regulation-ending layup. The game went into overtime. In the extra period, Meyers and Nestor scored field goals and Curry made a free throw. But Long Beach fought back to make it a one-point game. Then, with six seconds on the clock, Cal State’s hot-shooting Lynn Stith got open for a can’t-miss 12-footer. She missed.

“That was The Game,” exalts Sondheimer. “After that, we were a team of destiny.”

The Bruins defeated Nevada Las Vegas to win the regional and then beat Brigham Young and Stephen F. Austin in the sectional tournament. That put UCLA in the Final Four on its home court -- where the women hadn’t lost in the 30 games since Moore’s Fullerton team beat them in 1975.

Still, UCLA didn’t enter the Final Four as the favorite. That burden fell to Wayland Baptist, the Plainview, Texas, school that had given women players scholarships even before the AIAW allowed them. And then if Wayland faltered, there was still Maryland, which had already beaten UCLA and knocked number-one-ranked Tennessee out of the tournament.

Nor could underdog Montclair State, UCLA’s opponent in the semifinal, be counted out. The scrappy bunch from Jersey was the only Final Four team not on scholarship, but they had upset Maryland earlier in the season.

The Montclair players could barely afford to make the trip to California. “I remember selling everything that wasn’t nailed down,” says the team’s legendary senior forward Carol Blazejowski, the greatest scorer in the history of the women’s game.

“My folks borrowed money to come to L.A.”

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