Final scene right out of `Hoosiers'

State rivals Purdue, Notre Dame meet for women's crown

Irish favored, won in Dec.

Boilermakers seek 2nd title in 3 years

April 01, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS - At 9 tonight, ESPN Classic will air the movie "Hoosiers," the uplifting story of a team that battles adversity and demons to win a championship.

By that point, the main ESPN channel will already be 30 minutes into a real-life version of "Hoosiers," with two Indiana teams, No. 2 Notre Dame and ninth-ranked Purdue, playing two states over to the west for the 2001 NCAA women's championship.

"Growing up, `Hoosiers' was my favorite movie, and I think I was stereotypic of that, just playing outside on the courts," said Notre Dame center Ruth Riley, a native of Macy and the only Indiana native on the Irish roster. "Everyone around me would always play pickup, and I think it shows how far women's basketball has come in the state of Indiana and the growth that has occurred over the years."

Meanwhile, five Purdue players, including the team's core trio, guard/forward Katie Douglas, center Camille Cooper and guard Kelly Komara, are Indiana natives and appear to be taking the bragging rights of a state that produced basketball legends John Wooden and Larry Bird more seriously, particularly after losing to Notre Dame, 72-61, in December.

"Pride is just on the line right now, because I know we wanted to go out in early [December] and prove who the best team in the state was, and obviously we came up short-ended on that one, and the stakes are a lot bigger this time," Douglas said.

Neither of these teams has arrived here in true "Hoosiers" fashion, as a complete underdog on a magical ride, though Purdue (31-6) has had the most circuitous route.

Though the Boilermakers won the 1999 national title and are in their third Final Four in eight years, coach Kristy Curry is the fourth coach overall during that stretch, and the third in five years, meaning that the upperclassmen on this team were recruited by Nell Fortner, who left to coach the Olympic team, and played two years and won a title for Carolyn Peck, who left for the Orlando Miracle of the WNBA.

In addition, the Purdue team has been wracked by tragedy. Guard Tiffany Young was killed by a drunken driver after the 1999 title, and Douglas, a 6-foot-1 All-America swing player, has lost both her parents to cancer during her time at West Lafayette.

Through all that turmoil, the Boilermakers are poised to win their second title in three years.

"The young ladies that were in place, our five seniors, have held this thing together," said Curry, who kept two of the assistant coaches who had been with the program with the seniors. "The easy way out, sometimes, is to walk away, but they've stuck through it and they've come together and it's paying dividends. It will be my proudest moment [tonight] for those five kids because they've been through so much."

Said Cooper: "The system changed a little bit, but Kristy remained with the same philosophy, of taking care of each other and loving our teammates and players. She showed a lot of support for us on and off the court, and it was obvious from the start, and with all the changes we've been through. The philosophy of believing in each other and playing hard for each other has stayed the same despite system changes."

Except for Friday's 81-64 win over Southwest Missouri State here, the Boilermakers, the third seed in the Mideast, have played their tournament games down to the wire, relying heavily on Douglas and Cooper, tough defense and rebounding.

Douglas scored 25 points Friday, taking over at the point for Erika Valek, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the regional semifinal, while helping hold Jackie Stiles, the NCAA's all-time leading women's scorer, nine points below her season average of 31.

Cooper, meanwhile, scored 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds Friday, en route to helping the Boilermakers to a whopping 47-29 advantage on the boards - 21-8 on the offensive glass.

The Irish (33-2), by contrast, have had exactly one demon to conquer this season, namely Connecticut, which they tied for the Big East regular-season crown.

Notre Dame, the last team to lose in Division I, split its first two meetings with Connecticut, making Friday's semifinal a grudge match. The Irish erased a 16-point halftime deficit to beat the top-ranked Huskies, 90-75, here to advance to their first national championship appearance, and exorcise a giant demon.

"It [the Connecticut win] definitely drained us," said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. "It was a very emotional victory, and when you come from behind, it really takes a lot out of you to win to get that win. Hopefully, we'll be well-rested and ready to go. But I think with the national championship on the line, I don't think it's going to be a problem to get ready to play Purdue."

Of concern for the Irish is the status of point guard Niele Ivey's left ankle, which was sprained late in the Connecticut win. Ivey, a senior and St. Louis native, who had a game-high 21 points Friday, did not practice yesterday, and received treatment throughout the day.

"I've never had a sprain to that ankle, and it's doing really well," Ivey said yesterday. "It didn't swell up too bad. I'm going to be OK."

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