Poise under pressure
Purdue withstands Rutgers to advance to Final Four
Posted: Wednesday March 24, 1999 10:50 PM
NORMAL, Ill. (CNN/SI) - Purdue's senior duo got a big assist from sophomore Camille Cooper Monday.
Seniors Stephanie White-McCarty and Ukari Figgs sparked a late rally as Purdue defeated Rutgers 75-62 in the Midwest Regional final.
Cooper scored a career-high 20 points as the top-seeded Boilermakers advanced to the Final Four to face Louisiana Tech Friday.
Urged on by several thousand of their fans in the crowd of 8,844, the Boilermakers (32-1) didn't panic after falling behind by 10 points in the first half, scored the first seven points of the second half to get back in it and then relied on their two seniors down the stretch.
"I didn't want this to be my last game," said White-McCarty, who several times roused the crowd by waving her hands. "I didn't want this to be our team's last game. We just got fired up."
The victory also gives Carolyn Peck at least one more game as the coach at Purdue. She's leaving to become coach and general manager of the new Orlando franchise in the WNBA.
Purdue, which made its only other Final Four trip in 1994, will play the West Regional champion -- either Louisiana Tech or UCLA -- in the national semifinals in San Jose, Calif., next Friday.
"It sounds like a broken record, but we have two great leaders in Stephanie White-McCarty and Ukari Figgs," Peck said. "If one gets it done on offense, the other gets it done on defense. The team looks to both of them for guidance and leadership."
They certainly provided it on this night against Rutgers, which held off Purdue for much of the second half behind Shawnetta Stewart, who led all scorers with 24 points.
But the Scarlet Knights couldn't hold on after leading by four with less than 6 1/2 minutes left and Purdue won going away.
"We just unraveled at the end," Rutgers guard Tomora Young said. "Maybe we wanted it too much, but we did fall out of synch offensively and defensively."
White-McCarty, named the outstanding player in the regional, scored nine of her 22 points in the final 4:12, while Figgs had 13 of her 18 in the final 6:33. The 6-foot-4 Cooper kept the Boilermakers in it early with 8-of-9 shooting.
The Boilermakers also got Rutgers in foul trouble by taking the ball aggressively to the basket and they capitalized, making 30-of-46 free throws. Rutgers, which was called for 32 fouls, was 7-for-15 at the line.
"Defensively, we didn't adjust to the way the game was called," Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer said. "We were out of position and we should have known better.
"I don't think Purdue is an overwhelming team," she added, "But they're still here and we're going home."
Purdue shot 59 percent in the second half (13-of-22) after trailing 34-26 at halftime and its 75 points were the most scored this season on a Rutgers team known for its outstanding defense. The previous high against the Scarlet Knights had been 71.
"I told them at the half we had to be aggressive to win," Peck said. "We picked up the tempo offensively and defensively and emotionally, that pushed us."
Rutgers was leading 53-49 when Figgs and White-McCarty took over.
First Figgs hit a 3-pointer and sank three free throws to put Purdue ahead 55-53 with 4:59 left, its first lead since midway through the first half.
Then it was White-McCarty's turn. She scored seven straight Purdue points as the lead grew to 66-55, including a three-point play with a basket that probably had no business going in.
White-McCarty stumbled as she was fouled by Tammy Sutton-Brown while driving to the basket, threw the ball up underhanded and it dropped through the hoop. She then sank the free throw, completing a play that seemed to ensure that Purdue would win.
The Boilermakers then nailed it down at the free throw line. After missing six of their first eight free throws in the first half, Purdue sank 19-of-23 in the final 5:33.
"Purdue did a great job getting to the basket in the second half," Stringer said. "They started hitting their free throws, which was the difference late in the game when they pulled away."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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