March 31, 2001
By R.B. FALLSTROM
ST. LOUIS (AP) - The NCAA women's championship matchup might create new interest in the movie "Hoosiers."
No matter what happens, the state of Indiana is a winner in Sunday night's final. Notre Dame and Purdue, schools only 107 miles apart, will play in the first in-state final in the 20-year history of the tournament.
"I think it's great," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think it's great for basketball in Indiana. We've both got some great Indiana players."
Notre Dame forward Kelley Siemon said she's seen "Hoosiers," the true story of a small-town Indiana high school team that won the state championship in the 1950s, "a ton of times. But not as many times, I'm sure, as Ruth has."
The 6-foto-5 Ruth Riley, the only Indiana product on the Notre Dame roster, is the Associated Press Player of the Year.
Purdue (31-6) has more of a local flavor, with five in-state players. That includes All-American Katie Douglas and fellow starters Kelly Komara and Shalicia Hurns.
The Irish advanced to the final for the first time in school history, erasing a 16-point first-half deficit to beat defending champion Connecticut 90-75. That's the biggest comeback in women's Final Four history.
Purdue, the 1999 winner, shut down the Jackie Stiles show, holding the nation's leading scorer to 22 points in an 81-64 victory.
Stiles, who set the NCAA career scoring record earlier this month, entered with a 30.6-point average. She was held to seven points in the first half as Southwest Missouri (29-6) fell behind by 17 points.
"You never want something as good as this to end," Stiles said. "You never prepare yourself for this moment."
Adding more flavor to the championship game matchup is the way the teams got to this point. Notre Dame swapped the No. 1 rating with Connecticut during the regular season. Purdue is ranked ninth and advanced as a No. 3 seed from the Mideast Regional despite winning the Big Ten regular-season title.
Many viewed the UConn-Notre Dame game, a battle of top seeds, as the true title game.
"Everybody's probably counting Purdue out," said Douglas, who had 25 points and seven rebounds. "We like being the underdog. Keep making us the underdog because we've been successful so far."
McGraw wanted to play down that angle.
"At this point, the national final, I don't think either team is the underdog," McGraw said. "I think it's just two great teams going at it."
This will be the 13th meeting between the teams, and Purdue leads the series 9-3. But Notre Dame won this season's only matchup, 72-61 at home Dec. 9.
"They're a much better team than they were in December," McGraw said. "Hopefully, we are too. I think it's going to be a great game."
The teams have met twice in the NCAA tournament, with each team winning once. Notre Dame prevailed in the first round in 1996 and Purdue won in the Midwest Regional semifinals in 1998.
Notre Dame's Niele Ivey had 21 points and Riley rebounded from a poor first half with 18 points and seven rebounds. Riley got two early fouls and was limited to 12 minutes in the first half, getting only three points and one rebound.
"We just decided to come together and do it," Ivey said. "We had 20 more minutes regardless of what the score was. It was 0-0 coming back out there."
Ivey sprained her left ankle and was on crutches after the game. McGraw said Ivey would not practice today, but Ivey said she'd be fine.
The Irish shot 57 percent after the break and finished 8-for-11 from 3-point range for a surprisingly easy trip to the final. They've had only one close call in the tournament, an eight-point victory over Vanderbilt in the Midwest Regional final.
Notre Dame held freshman Diana Taurasi, who had been carrying Connecticut lately, to 1-for-15 shooting.
"We definitely were keying on Taurasi," McGraw said. "We thought about a box-and-one, but she missed some shots at the start and we decided to take our chances."
Douglas and Camille Cooper, who were starters on Purdue's 1999 title team, starred in the semifinals. Cooper had 16 points and 10 rebounds, her seventh double-double of the season.
Purdue had one of its most dominating inside performances of the season, and the best by far in the tournament, against Southwest Missouri State. The Boilermakers had 21 offensive rebounds, scoring on numerous second chances, and had a 47-29 overall advantage.
Rebounding hadn't been a strong suit earlier in the tournament for Purdue, which was outrebounded by UC-Santa Barbara and Louisiana State in the first two rounds, were even with Texas Tech and had a 37-34 edge against Xavier.
"Our game plan was to face them and get them out," said Southwest Missouri forward Carly Deer, held to two rebounds. "We kind of threw that out the window.
"They are big and athletic, and, you know, we just didn't execute the
blocking out that we would have liked to have."