"Chemistry," Patty Coyle said yesterday. "That's what this game is all about."
Coyle should know. Twenty-five years ago, as a player, she led an undersized Rutgers team to a national women's basketball championship. In the 1990s, as coach at Loyola College, Coyle turned a moribund program into a team to be reckoned with.
Nowadays, she is coach of the New York Liberty of the WNBA, which holds its draft tomorrow. The draft is all about team chemistry. But Coyle may put those charts aside tonight when Rutgers plays for the NCAA title against storied Tennessee (33-3).
Rutgers (27-8) should have gone home by now. Instead, the Scarlet Knights, a No. 4 seed, are one step shy of winning it all.
"Do they have a shot? Absolutely. Their guards are playing very, very well," Coyle said.
It's Rutgers' second trip to a title game. As a senior in 1982, Coyle scored a career-high 30 points to lead Rutgers to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women championship.
Rutgers won, 83-77, upending heavily favored Texas.
Texas had more talent, Coyle said, but her team had the right stuff.
"The day before the title game, we were shooting around when Texas walked in." she said. "I remember looking at their size and athleticism and thinking, 'I don't know how ... we'll beat them, but we will find a way."
A freshman on that Rutgers squad was Debbie Paladino, who had played at Centennial High in Howard County.
It helped, Coyle said, that the championship game was played in Philadelphia, her hometown.
"A better script could not have been written," she said. "If you can't get fired up playing before the hometown folks, then you don't have a pulse."
That basketball game marked the end of the AIAW, which competed in 1982 with the newly formed NCAA women's tournament.
After graduation, Coyle turned to coaching and, in 1992, took the job at Loyola, which had averaged five victories in the previous six seasons.
"I looked at Loyola, with its academics and beautiful campus, and thought, this is a sleeping giant," she said.
In 6 1/2 years there, her Greyhounds teams went 100-77 and twice reached the NCAA tournament, both times falling in the first round.
In 1998, Coyle left to coach the Liberty.
"I felt I'd taken Loyola as far as I could," she said.
Tonight, as she mulls the draft with one eye and roots for Rutgers with the other, Coyle will hark back 25 years to the team that won it all.
"It's something you remember for the rest of your life," she said. "Ours was a group of women on the same page, with the same drive and the same goals.
"We sacrificed, and we all just came together."