After slow first half, Figgs sparks Purdue, named MVP
Posted: Wednesday April 07, 1999 04:50 PM
SAN JOSE, Calif. (CNN/SI) -- Purdue's Ukari Figgs has lived in the shadow of her backcourt teammate Stephanie White-McCarty all season.
But Sunday night, Figgs emerged as the star. After being held scoreless in the first half, the senior guard seemed determined to end her career on top and propell the Boilermakers to their first-ever national title.
"I knew I had 20 minutes to be a winner or a loser," Figgs said after an 18-point second-half performance. "I don't like being a loser."
The senior guard went 0-for-7 from the floor and the shortcoming reflected on her entire team. The Boilermakers trailed 22-17 at the half.
She scored her first basket 17 seconds into the second half. Less than a minute later, she scored again, bringing Purdue within 22-21. The Boilermakers wrestled for the lead, but didn't take it until Figgs' driving layup at 12:57 made it 32-30.
Along with that go-ahead basket, Figgs had eight points as Purdue went on a 12-4 run to extend the lead to 42-34. The Boilermakers easily led the rest of the way.
When Figgs finally caught fire, White-McCarty casually held out her hand as she passed by her best friend during a lull in play. Figgs hit it, and each smiled. The Boilermakers were making their big move.
Figgs and White-McCarty capped their college careers with a 62-45 victory over Duke for the national title.
"I thought earlier in the first half she was looking for a shot a little bit, but she was going to figure the game out," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said of Figgs. "She used her quickness, her speed, her athleticism and really got to the basket."
White-McCarty and Figgs form what has been called the best women's backcourt in the country. Figgs quietly and competently played her game, while White-McCarty grabbed a lot of the attention in her home state -- leading many of their teammates to call Figgs Purdue's unsung hero.
Figgs proved her worth during the Final Four. Against Louisiana Tech in the semifinals, Figgs scored 24 points, 18 in the first half. She also had 10 rebounds and went 5-of-7 on 3-pointers.
The Final Four and the eventual national championship were the culmination of a turbulent tenure at Purdue for both Figgs and White-McCarty.
Both started as high school standouts. White-McCarty reached megastar status in the small town of West Lebanon, and was named Miss Basketball in Indiana. Figgs was Miss Basketball in Kentucky.
Both chose Purdue, but after their freshman year, coach Lin Dunn was fired. Then sophomore-year coach Nell Fortner left to coach the U.S. Women's National Team.
Some players, including Duke's Nicole Erickson and Michele Van Gorp, gave up on Purdue and transferred.
Figgs and White-McCarty stayed, and it paid off when Purdue assistant Carolyn Peck was named coach. Together, they began a two-year quest that landed them at the San Jose Arena on Sunday.
Peck said that under Fortner, Figgs and White-McCarty made a commitment to winning at Purdue.
"When you saw that from them," the coach said, "you knew this was going to be something special."
White-McCarty was more steady Sunday night with 12 points, including eight in the first half, but left the game with about four minutes to go with a severe ankle sprain. As White-McCarty wailed in pain from the bench, Figgs made sure the Boilermakers stayed focused.
"Steph and I have been through so much together," she said. "We dreamed about it, we talked about winning a national championship."
When the final buzzer sounded and many of the rest of their teammates celebrated at midcourt, Figgs headed to the bench and threw her arms around White-McCarty, by then on crutches.
Each cried tears of joy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.