The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

February 26, 2013

Underdog Lions advance to 1982 NAIA women's basketball final

Apparently the NAIA women’s basketball tournament committee didn’t expect Missouri Southern to make the 1982 national tournament.

“When I called in the score,” Lions coach Jim Phillips said, “they had already penciled in Grand View as the team. And we’d won.”

The Lions defeated Grand View, from Des Moines, Iowa, by a 59-57 score in the championship game of the NAIA Area IV Tournament at Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium. The Lions went on to finish second in the national tournament in Kansas City, Mo.

The Lions’ postseason success came as a surprise to many, considering they lost their final four games of the regular season.

“Two of them were real close (53-52 at Pittsburg State and 68-66 at Kearney State),” Phillips said. “Nobody expected us to be there ... nobody except the team. Everybody on the team expected us to win.”

The regular season ended with a 90-68 loss at Fort Hays State, but the next week, the Lions won the NAIA District 16 tournament on their floor by beating Missouri Western 53-48 and William Woods 78-62.

The Lions then beat Milton (Wis.) 59-49 in the first round of the area tournament as Lisa Mitchell collected 14 points, 21 rebounds, six steals and four assists. Center Pam Brisby then had 31 points and 16 rebounds in the victory over Grand View.

Missouri Southern was the sixth seed in the national tournament at Kemper Arena. The Lions continued their giant-killer role as they defeated third-seeded Charleston (W.Va.) 74-65 in the quarterfinals and Berry (Fla.) 59-57 in the semifinals before losing to undefeated Southwestern Oklahoma State 80-45 in the championship game.

“Charleston had a real good guard who had been hot all year long,” Phillips said. “We shut her down. When we played Berry, we only played five people. That 1982 team was in shape.

“However, that hurt us in the final game because we didn’t have the stamina to stay up with Southwestern Oklahoma. They had one of the very best players I’ve ever seen — Kelli Litsch. She lit it up that night (18 points and was named the tournament’s most valuable player for the first of three times). Southwestern Oklahoma was a great team. They were 33-0 that year.”

Brisby set national tournament single-game records with 34 points and 21 rebounds against Charleston, and she established tournament records for points (64), rebounds (34) and field goals (25).

Against Berry, Mitchell scored 16 points, Brenda Pitts and Brisby had 14 apiece, Linda Castillon had 11 points and five steals and JaNelda Dvorak had four points. Brisby’s jumper with 17 seconds left broke a 57-57 deadlock.

Brisby had 16 points against Southwestern Oklahoma before being taken off the court on a stretcher after suffering a back injury with 2:48 left. Ironically, she also was injured in the final game of her high school career.

“I fell and broke my arm in high school,” Brisby said at a welcome-home reception the day after the tournament. “When I fell Saturday night, my mom said ‘oh no, Pam broke her arm again.’ ”

Brisby and Pitts were named to the all-tournament team, and Pitts received the tournament’s first Hustle Award — not a bad present on her 22nd birthday.

“This is a dream come true,” Pitts said the day before the championship game. “No one really expected us to get this far.”

The Lions finished 23-12, including a five-game winning streak to open the season, a six-game streak that began on Jan. 30 and the six-game run in the postseason to reach the national title game.

Even a loss — 67-64 to Michigan State in the third-place game of the Central Missouri Tournament on Dec. 4, 1981 — showed the Lions had potential.

Phillips — the Lions’ new coach that season — quickly knew team chemistry would not be an issue.

“I knew I had a good team when I saw Brenda Pitts and Lisa Mitchell helping ‘Big Pam’ be a part of the team,” he said. “I’d made the statement that a player couldn’t be a part of the team and she couldn’t play if she couldn’t make her mile time.

“Pam didn’t make it at first, and Brenda and Lisa wanted her to be a part of the team. With Brenda pulling her and Lisa pushing her, Pam finally made it with four-tenths of a second to spare.”

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