A GENDER'S SHOOTING STARS

"Their gritty, dramatic journey to the championship became, in the end, an amazing fairy tale," Smith says. "More importantly, it also came to symbolize the potential of all women athletes, when given an opportunity, to get in the game."
Viewers will see that not only on the court, but in the shining faces of the little girls begging autographs after the horn sounded. Smith does not put too fine a point on it, but role models abound on the hardwood in Palo Alto. The Cardinal won a second consecutive national title in 1991, and this year they finished the year ranked number 11. Last season, Colorado upset them in the Sweet Sixteen round. A rematch will come Thursday night in Palo Alto.

Are women's sports healthier than in 1971? Sure. Are they equitable? Not by a shot from half-court. Among the vivid ironies sprinkled through In the Game:

• Just as Stanford arrives in Knoxville for the 1990 Final Four, the University of Oklahoma announces it's dropping its women's basketball program. Asked for her reaction, VanDerveer calls it "a major slap in the face and a major step backwards," but Oklahoma men's coach Billy Tubbs dismisses women's hoop as "money down the drain." Faced with lawsuits, Oklahoma reinstates the women a week later.

• In 1991, Stanford repeats as NCAA champs, but VanDerveer, who was earning a salary half that of the Stanford men's coach, gets an equal pay contract only after threatening a discrimination suit. (CU's Barry, by the way, also earns equal pay.)

• For most of the 1990 Stanford team, as for female basketball players everywhere, the game ends after senior year. Of her All-America star, Jennifer Azzi, VanDerveer says: "If she was a male athlete, she'd be a top NBA draft pick making a million dollars a year. She's a Magic Johnson, a Larry Bird, an Isiah. It's a shame. The way she'll have to channel that now is playing the Olympics."

But that didn't happen either: Jennifer was one of the last players cut from the 1992 U.S. team. She's playing in Europe, while teammate Katy Steding went on to a women's team in Japan--until that nation banned American players, in 1993. That underscores what may be the unkindest cut of all for the best collegiate female athletes. Long before they reach their peaks, their opportunities to play in America have vanished.

In the women's dressing room, March Madness rarely survives until April.

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