Women's Final Four

Ncaa Tournament

The Final Four

March 30, 2001|By Milton Kent

Women's Final Four

Tonight's semifinals

Site: Savvis Center, St. Louis

Southwest Missouri State (29-5) vs. Purdue (30-6)

Time: 7

TV: ESPN

Coaches: Cheryl Burnett is 303-122 in 14 years, all at Southwest Missouri State. Purdue's Kristy Curry is 53-14 in two seasons, both at Purdue.

Southwest Missouri State's lineup: The Lady Bears' attack begins and ends with Jackie Stiles, the NCAA's all-time leading scorer, averaging a career-best 30.6 points a game. She is perhaps the most electrifying player in the women's college game since Sheryl Swoopes carried Texas Tech to the 1993 title. Stiles has scored 105 points in her past three games against Rutgers, Duke and Washington, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Purdue's lineup: The Boilermakers won the national title two years ago, and seniors Katie Douglas, an All-American and the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, and Camille Cooper have big-game experience. A 6-foot-4 center, Cooper is averaging nearly two blocks as well as 14 points and 6.5 rebounds. Junior Kelly Komara, the other key cog remaining from the 1999 title team, can play shooting or point guard.

Key matchup: Komara vs. Melody Campbell. Komara, a junior who started at the point last season, has been thrust back into that role after Erka Valek tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the regional semifinal win over Texas Tech. Campbell hasn't scored in double figures in any game this season, but is a stellar defender. Her ability to take Komara out of a comfort zone will be key to SMS' chances.

What Southwest Missouri State has to do to win: More of the same, namely get Stiles enough touches, get support from Tara Mitchem and play solid interior defense on the taller, more athletic Purdue frontcourt players.

What Purdue has to do to win: Exploit its talent superiority and keep the pro-SMS crowd out of the game. If the Lady Bears get on a roll, even the neutral fans will take up their cause.

Bottom line: Logic suggests that Purdue's superior numbers and the law of averages that Stiles is due for a poor shooting night should end SMS' dream run through the tournament. But there's nothing logical about what the Lady Bears have done to this point. Stiles should have enough to get SMS to Sunday's title game.

Connecticut (32-2) vs. Notre Dame (32-2)

Time: 9:30 approximately

TV: ESPN

Coaches: Connecticut's Geno Auriemma is 425-97 in 16 seasons, all at Connecticut. Muffet McGraw is 408-158 in 19 seasons as a coach, 320-117 in 14 years at Notre Dame.

Connecticut's lineup: The Huskies are a startling blend of the inside speed and power of juniors Swin Cash and Asjha Jones, with the calm of junior point guard Sue Bird, who averages five assists and is a career 46 percent shooter from three-point range. Freshman Diana Taurasi has been sensational since moving into the starting lineup to replace Shea Ralph, last year's Final Four Most Outstanding Player who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the Big East final.

Notre Dame's lineup: The Irish may have the nation's best starting lineup, with all five starters averaging in double figures. Center Ruth Riley, the consensus National Player of the Year (18.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg.), has been brilliant and will be one of the first three players chosen in next month's WNBA draft. Point guard Niele Ivey was 11th in the nation in assists (7.1), and Alicia Ratay is hitting 55 percent of her three-pointers for the season, which leads the country.

Key matchup: Ivey vs. Bird. Beyond their ability to run their respective offenses, both point guards are terrific shooters. After tying the score with five seconds to go in the Big East final, the Irish let Bird drive the floor nearly uncontested, and she hit an 18-foot buzzer beater for the win.

What Connecticut has to do to win: Get Riley in foul trouble. The Irish have become a much more complete team than last season, when they were bounced from the Mideast Regional semifinal, but they can't win if she's sidelined for a long stretch.

What Notre Dame has to do to win: Get Taurasi in foul trouble. The freshman has played well since taking over for Ralph, but she's fouled out four times, including in the Big East final. Connecticut's margin for error is considerably smaller now, and it can't afford to have Taurasi out of the equation.

Bottom line: This one may again come down to the last possession, but the Irish appear to have enough balance to pull out a squeaker.

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