TACOMA, Wash. (AP) _ Louisiana Tech Coach Leon Barmore had a message for his team at halftime and they obviously listened well.
Erica Westbrooks scored 16 of her 25 points in the second half and Tech overcame a 14-point deficit to beat Auburn 56-54 Sunday for the NCAA women’s basketball championship.
″You don’t quit in anything,″ Barmore said he told his team at the half. ″You don’t quit in life. And that’s all I wanted out of our kids at halftime. We said, ‘Say, hey, no matter what happens, be proud of your efforts when it’s over and you can live with yourselves the rest of your life’. We’ll live pretty good.″
Barmore became the first male coach ever to win a national collegiate women’s title.
The Lady Techsters trailed Auburn 33-19 47 seconds into the second half after Diann McNeil scored the second half’s opening basket.
″We came in at halftime and we kept thinking we can’t give up,″ Westbrooks said.
″Any other game when we’d be behind by that many points, we’d be all upset,″ Westbrooks said. ″This time we kept thinking that it had to be us. We had to keep digging and finding it within ourselves.″
The 6-foot-3 senior forward led a Louisiana Tech comeback that was also sparked by the defensive performance of Weatherspoon (a guard) in the second half on Auburn’s Ruthie Bolton.
Ruthie Bolton scored 16 points in the first half as the Lady Tigers took a 31-19 lead, but didn’t score in the second half.
″I love playing defense,″ Weatherspoon said. ″If somebody scores on me like that in the first half, I’m out there to shut them down in the second half.″
Barmore credited Weatherspoon, who had seven assists in the second half after having only one assist in the first half, for her play in the second half.
″I don’t single out a lot of players, but it’ll be a long time before you see a player like Teresa Weatherspoon ... Teresa Weathersppon has been one of the best there’s ever been.″
Louisiana Tech went ahead for the first time in the game at 53-51 on a lay- in by Westbrooks with 2:13 to go after a Weatherspoon steal and pass.
″For some reason we lost it defensively about the 14-minute mark,″ Auburn Coach Joe Ciampi said. ″We went out of control for about six minutes defensively and right now I can’t put a finger on why.″
Vickie Orr of Auburn tied the score at 53-53 on a 10-foot shot with 59 seconds left and Angela Lawson put Louisiana Tech ahead to stay 55-53 with a 20-footer with 39 seconds remaining.
Sharon Stewart made a free throw for Auburn with 25 seconds to go, but Weatherspoon connected on a free throw with three seconds left.
Ruthie Bolton and McNeil each had 16 points for Auburn.
Westbrooks, who was voted the most valuable player of the tournament, made a superb defensive play on a driving McNeil with six seconds left. Westbrooks blocked McNeil underneath the basket and the play was ruled a jump ball.
Louisiana Tech got possession because the possession arrow was pointing its way.
″The thing I like about Diann is she wasn’t afraid to go in and try to win the basketball game,″ said Ciampi, who said he didn’t consider calling a timeout.
″I kept thinking don’t foul because all through the year this year I’d try to draw the charge and get called for blocking,″ said Westbrooks.
The third-ranked Lady Tigers, who beat Long Beach State 68-55 in Friday night’s semifinals, had things their own way in the first half.
Barmore got his team back into the game in the second half by benching 6- foot-4, 200-pound sophomore center Venus Lacy and going with a quicker lineup with substitute Sheila Ethridge.
In the first half, Ruthie Bolton was 7-for-11 from the field, including two of two from 3-point range. But Weatherspoon’s tight defense limited her to only four field-goal attempts in the second half.
Louisiana Tech didn’t lead in the first half. Auburn scored the first six points of the game, but the Lady Techsters came back to tie the score at 6-6.
Ruthie Bolton put Auburn ahead at 9-6 when she hit her first 3-point basket with 3:47 gone.
With Auburn ahead 16-13, the Lady Tigers went on a 9-0 run for a 25-13 lead with 3:10 left in the first half, with Ruthie Bolton contributing her second 3-pointer.
The No. 5 Lady Techsters finished the season at 32-2. They beat defending champion and top-ranked Tennessee 68-59 in their Friday night semifinal.
Auburn wound up at 32-3. It was Louisiana Tech’s second NCAA women’s title. It won the first championship in 1982 and was runner-up in 1983 and 1987.