April 1, 2001
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Add the names McGraw, Riley and Ivey to the rich lore of Notre Dame athletics.
The school of Rockne, Leahy and Montana now has a national championship in basketball.
Notre Dame won the NCAA women's title by pulling off yet another Final Four comeback, beating Purdue 68-66 Sunday on Ruth Riley's two free throws with 5.8 seconds left.
The Irish trailed by 12 points in the first half and were down 66-64 with a little more than a minute to play when Riley, the team's unanimous All-American and national player of the year, came through.
"It's definitely euphoria," coach Muffet McGraw said. "It's the greatest moment in our basketball history at Notre Dame.
"I don't know when I've been this excited. What can you say about Ruth Riley? What clutch on the free throw line, to make both of those free throws!"
Somehow it seemed fitting in this all-Indiana final. Riley is Notre Dame's only Indiana native.
First, she scored in the lane to tie it at 66 with 1:01 remaining. Then, she
rebounded a miss by Purdue's Shereka Wright, enabling the Irish (34-2) to set
up a late shot.
They got the ball to Riley - who else? - and she was fouled by Wright. She made the first throw, returned to the line after a Purdue timeout and calmly made the second.
"I can't even describe it," Riley said. "This is the only thing I wanted. To be able to share this with my teammates is unbelievable. We worked so hard that it was fitting to end the season this way.
"All those free throws I shot after practice really paid off."
It still wasn't over because Purdue (31-7) had the last shot. But All-American Katie Douglas missed an 18-foot shot at the buzzer, the ball hitting the front of the rim and bouncing off the backboard as the game ended, touching off a wild celebration by Notre Dame.
"We designed a play and got out there and didn't execute it," Douglas said. "I had a good look at the basket and it didn't go down for me."
Don't blame Douglas, Purdue coach Kristy Curry said. Curry didn't say it, but the implication was clear: the Boilermakers wouldn't have been here without her.
"She's hit a lot of shots for us, but it didn't go down for her tonight," Curry said. "But we'll not focus on that. We would have liked for her to make the shot, but we didn't get it."
Riley, held to one point in the first 8:23, finished with 28 to lead all scorers, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked seven shots. Erika Haney, St. Louis native Niele Ivey and Kelley Siemon also scored in double figures for the Irish.
That turned out to be enough to offset the inspired play of Purdue freshmen Wright and Shalicia Hurns and another solid performance by Douglas. Purdue won the 1999 national championship and certainly had its chances to win this one, but Notre Dame would not be denied.
"I always dreamed of this moment, and then to have it happen in my hometown," said Ivey, who wore a brace on the left ankle she sprained during the semifinal. "I'm totally blessed."
Haney finished with 13 points for Notre Dame, Ivey scored 12 and Siemon had 10.
The Irish, the best 3-point shooting team in the nation, won despite going 1-for-10 from behind the arc. Alicia Ratay, the nation's best individual performer, was 1-for-4. But the one she made was huge, tying the score at 62 with 4:02 remaining.
"I thought, 'Hallelujah!"' McGraw said. "It was such a big shot for us and I was pleased with her courage in taking the shot."
Douglas came through with 18 for Purdue and had the Boilermakers' final points, converting a three-point play off a steal and layup to give Purdue a 66-64 lead with 1:22 remaining. Then Riley, named the outstanding player in the Final Four, took over and denied Purdue a second title.
Wright and Hurns, athletic players who have bright futures with the Boilermakers, each scored 17. Douglas also had seven rebounds, five steals and five assists as her brilliant career came to an end. She was a starter on the '99 championship team.
The other starter Purdue had back from that team - center Camille Cooper - was dogged by fouls and finished with just six points while playing only 23 minutes.
"I knew it would be a battle," Douglas said. "Ruth played a great game. If she was not blocking a shot, she was altering a shot. She was getting a lot of rebounds. It was just her night."
Notre Dame trailed 19-7 early and was down six at halftime. But the Irish have this comeback thing down pat. They rallied from 16 points down in Friday night's semifinal to beat Connecticut - the biggest comeback in the 20 years of the women's Final Four.
And they did it again.
Riley had four points as Notre Dame started the second half with an 8-0 run to take its first lead at 34-32. It didn't last long. Purdue came back with a 10-3 run that included 3-pointers by Douglas and Kelly Komara to go up 42-37, and it was 49-41 after Komara's layup with 12:32 remaining.
Notre Dame then chipped away and finally tied it at 55 on Jeneka Joyce's two free throws with 7:55 to play.
From there, it was back and forth to the end. Notre Dame led 64-63 when Ivey made a layup as the shot clock buzzer sounded and fans were counting down the time. Komara's airball gave the Irish a chance to extend the lead, but Douglas came up with her steal and three-point play.
"It hurts so bad right now because the program has been through so much adversity," said Curry, who took the job after Carolyn Peck guided the Boilermakers to their title. "But our five seniors will walk out of here winners in the game of life. They'll all do good things."