March 28, 2001
By TOM COYNE
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Basketball wasn't invented in Indiana, though many a Hoosier would argue it was perfected here.
The state boasts a hoops legacy that includes John Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird, not to mention outsiders such as Bob Knight and Reggie Miller. The movie "Hoosiers" was based on the state hysteria over high school basketball and scores of books have been written about Indiana's love of the sport.
Well, it's time for another chapter.
Purdue and Notre Dame on Friday will become the first women's teams from the same state to appear in the same Final Four.
It's happened six times on the men's side, including Ohio State and Cincinnati three straight years from 1960-62, meeting in the championship games the final two years.
The Boilermakers (30-6) and Irish (32-2) are in opposite semifinals and could meet in the title game Sunday.
"We in Indiana who are basketball-crazy Hoosier nuts couldn't be happier," said Roger Dickinson, executive director of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Maybe a little happier if Indiana University was one of the two other teams in the Final Four. But for northern Indiana, where Purdue and Notre Dame are separated by the Tippecanoe River valley and about 90 miles of cornfields, it doesn't get much better.
Both colleges put football teams in the Bowl Championship Series this year. But neither had a shot at a national title and both lost.
And it seems like eons since Indiana's men's teams have done this well. The Indiana Hoosiers have won five NCAA championships and been to the Final Four seven times, but not since 1992.
Purdue's men have been to the Final Four twice, losing to UCLA in the championship game in 1969 and to the Bruins in a 1980 semifinal. Notre Dame's men lost to Duke in a 1978 semifinal.
In recent years, the women at Purdue and Notre Dame have been the most successful teams in the state. This is the third trip to the Final Four for Purdue women since 1994, who won the championship two years ago, and the second trip in five years for Notre Dame.
"I think it shows we have great basketball here in the state of Indiana," Purdue coach Kristy Curry said. "The impact players from both teams are from Indiana."
They are Purdue's Katie Douglas (15.2 ppg) and Notre Dame's Ruth Riley (18.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg), both first-team All-Americans, who played together on some Amateur Athletic Union teams.
"It shows what kind of players come out of Indiana and says a lot about Hoosier basketball," said Riley, who considered attending Purdue.
Purdue leads the series 9-3, although the schools have split the last six meetings. Notre Dame won 72-61 in South Bend in December.
Purdue and Notre Dame meet annually in football, with the Irish holding an 47-23-2 advantage. Purdue holds a 20-19 advantage in men's basketball, but the two schools haven't met since 1966. Former Irish coach Digger Phelps used to say the reason the Irish didn't play the Boilermakers was because there was no road between West Lafayette and South Bend.
It's actually not that difficult a trip, just a little meandering: head south on Indiana 31 about 50 miles, then southwest on Indiana 25 about another 50 miles. The drive takes about 2 1/4 hours.
About 10 miles from where the highways intersect is the small town of Macy, a farming community that has two churches, a beauty parlor, a grain elevator and no traffic lights. The town of 248 people is about at the midpoint between the two schools, but it isn't divided in its loyalties. It's Riley's hometown.
"I'd like to see Purdue get to the championship, my grandson goes to Purdue. But I'm cheering for Notre Dame," said Donna Jean Halterman, who has lived in the town for all 48 years she's been married.
It's not that Halterman doesn't like the Boilermakers. She and the other residents of Macy, most of them hog or dairy farmers, can't help but cheer for Notre Dame after watching Riley grow up there.
"We have to cheer for her. She's our hometown girl," Fire Chief Andy Hurst said.
At the Hall of Fame, Dickinson said the emergence of women's basketball in Indiana is no surprise.
"People in Indiana think it's a birthright. It's a way of life. It's a
community-supported, community-spirited situation," Dickinson said. "We get
people from all over the country and all over the world who come and visit the
Hall of Fame. They know Indiana for three things - the 500-mile race, corn and
basketball. I would say that's a pretty good description."