Progress at Purdue
Despite lame-duck coach, Purdue is nation's No. 1 team
Posted: Wednesday March 24, 1999 08:36 PM
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -- Two years ago, Purdue had a new staff and nine newcomers on its 12-player women's basketball roster.
By the end of last season, the Boilermakers were the Big Ten champions, and as the 1998-99 season nears an end, they are the No. 1 team in the nation and playing for a possible NCAA title.
All this with a lame-duck coach.
Carolyn Peck, who took over when Nell Fortner left to coach the USA National team, led the Boilermakers to the Big Ten tourney title and to the NCAA round of eight last year, then agreed to stay one more season before moving on herself.
For now, she's having too much fun to think beyond this weekend's Final Four.
"The thing I enjoy the most is seeing our players enjoying what they're doing," said Peck, 33, who next month will become coach and general manager of Orlando's WNBA expansion franchise.
"It's a great transition from high school to college ... It's a different kind of fun. Watching them learn what the different fun is the best part."
The top-ranked and top-seeded Boilermakers (32-1) beat Rutgers 75-62 in the Midwest Regional final Monday night to advance to the Final Four at San Jose, Calif., where they will play West Regional champion Louisiana Tech in one of Friday's semifinals. Duke and Georgia will play in the other semifinal, and the two winners will meet on Sunday for the title.
Purdue lost to Louisiana Tech in the regional finals last year, then started its march to the top with a 78-68 victory over Tennessee to start the new season, snapping the three-time defending NCAA champions' winning streak at 46 games.
A 73-72 loss at Stanford the next week was Purdue's only loss of the campaign.
"I hate to sound like a recording, but we have two great leaders -- Stephanie White-McCarty and Ukari Figgs. Both of them," Peck said. "If one gets it done on offense, the other one gets it done on defense. This team looks to both of them for guidance and leadership."
Sophomore Camille Cooper had a career-high 20 points in the victory Monday night.
"She has stepped up big time in the NCAA tournament. She came out and she played big. And these two seniors showed confidence in her," Peck said. "It was a total team effort. You only saw seven players play, but it was all 15."
White-McCarty scored seven of her team-high 22 points during a game-turning 16-2 run in which Purdue took control.
"I didn't want this to be our last game and our team didn't want this to be our last game. We probably came out a little too flat to start the game, but we played with a lot more emotion in the second half both offensively and especially defensively," White-McCarty said.
Experience paid off, the coach said.
"Last year Steph and 'Kari were in these kinds of situations," Peck said. "A couple of times we were down 17 and came back to win. That experience that two senior captains have ... they never lost their composure, they never folded and as long as they stay confident, the rest of this team stays confident. They led their team, and once they got the lead they held onto it."
Freshman Kelly Komara, like White-McCarty a former Indiana high school Miss Basketball, agreed.
"When things got tight and it got late, Steph and 'Kari just put this team on their backs," said Komara, who chipped in three free throws in the final minute. "What can you say? But what else would anyone expect?"
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