Top-ranked Purdue advances to final with 77-63 win
Posted: Wednesday April 07, 1999 08:19 PM
SAN JOSE, Calif. (CNN/SI) -- Purdue has only lost one game this season, and was the No. 1 ranked team coming into the NCAA Tournament. This is where they wanted to be.
With a 77-63 defeat of Louisiana Tech Friday night, the Boilermakers advanced to Sunday's title game to face Duke.
Sunday's game will be the last time the duo of Stephanie White-McCarty and Ukari Figgs will team up in the backcourt. It will also be the last game for WNBA-bound Purdue coach Carolyn Peck.
Figgs scored 18 of her 24 points in the first half Friday, White-McCarty added 17 and they provided their usual strong dose of leadership Friday night as No. 1 Purdue reached the NCAA title game with a 77-63 victory over Louisiana Tech.
And as long as they've come this far, the Boilermakers figure they might as well try to win it.
"We're happy where we are, but we're not satisfied," White-McCarty said. "We want more. That's been our attitude all season."
Purdue (33-1) won for the 31st straight time and will try to win its first title Sunday night against Duke. That game will look a bit like Purdue circa 1995-96 because it will send Figgs and White-McCarty against former teammates Nicole Erickson and Michele VanGorp.
Erickson and VanGorp, who combined for 42 points in an 81-69 victory over Georgia, left Purdue following the firing of coach Lin Dunn in 1996.
"We're just going to approach it like any other game," White-McCarty said. "We've got to play Duke. We're not just playing those two players."
Win or lose, it will be Peck's last game as Purdue's coach. She's leaving to become coach and general manager of the WNBA's new Orlando franchise, a job change she announced last July.
Her lame-duck status had no affect on her team and now she has a chance to capture the biggest prize in women's college basketball in just her second year as a coach. It has happened in large measure because of her two seniors, Figgs and White-McCarty.
"I cannot say enough about the wonderful players they are," said Peck, The Associated Press coach of the year. "They're great team players. They kept the whole team involved."
Playing with poise and patience against Louisiana Tech's tenacious man-to-man defense, Purdue built a 15-point lead in the first half behind Figgs, then weathered a comeback to deny the Lady Techsters (30-3) a return trip to the championship game.
Tech lost in the finals to Tennessee last year. Amanda Wilson scored 18 points and Monica Maxwell 17 for Tech, which had won 22 straight since a 71-65 loss to Purdue on Dec. 19.
"I've got to compliment Purdue," Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore said. "They are much better now than they were when we played them in December. We had no answers for Figgs. It wasn't the defender's fault most of the time. Figgs made all the big plays for them when they needed them."
Figgs finished 8-for-14 from the field and went 5-for-7 on 3-point shots.
"She gave us a lot of energy," Peck said. "She was a spark for us. Ukari plays as hard on defense as she does, and she still is able to be the spark for us [on offense]."
Purdue led 40-27 at halftime and was up 50-37 after White-McCarty hit a 3-pointer with 15:15. Louisiana Tech then started to cause some problems with its defense and clawed back.
Maxwell's 3-pointer and Wilson's basket inside pulled the Lady Techsters to 52-45 and they trailed just 58-55 when Betty Lennox nailed a 3-pointer with 8:45 remaining. But they would get no closer.
Figgs hit a 3-pointer with Tamicha Jackson in her face, White-McCarty stole the ball and drove for a layup, then made a floating jumper just as the shot-clock buzzer was sounding. Then it was Camille Cooper scoring inside and Katie Douglas knocking down a 3-pointer.
That completed a 12-0 run and made it 70-55 with 4:38 to go, leaving Tech with too much of a deficit to overcome on a night its shots were not falling.
"I thought the play of the game was when we threw the ball away and Stephanie White stole the ball and went the distance," Barmore said. "That play absolutely killed us."
Figgs made her most spectacular play of the game just before the decisive run. She ran down a high bouncing ball near midcourt, took it behind her back on the dribble, then flipped a backhanded pass to White-McCarty streaking down the middle of the floor,
White-McCarty blew the layup, but Cooper followed it up. It was that kind of night for the Boilermakers.
"They have obviously stepped up in the last few months from when we played them," Wilson said. "But our team felt like we never gave up. We played the best we could play. We all just looked up at the end and saw the final score and saw that we were losers."
Douglas scored 15 points and Purdue also got a big lift from reserve Tiffany Young, who was averaging only 1.9 points and didn't even play in the Midwest Regional finals against Rutgers. Young hit three key second-half baskets to help keep Purdue in command and finished with eight points.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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