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Top of the Pecking order

Purdue coach now must turn attention toward WNBA

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Posted: Wednesday April 07, 1999 07:49 PM

  She got what she wanted at the college level; now Peck will seek the same reward in the WNBA. AP

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CNN/SI) -- One basketball season has ended, but another is abot to begin for Purdue coach Carolyn Peck.

In just two seasons as the Boilermakers head coach, Peck has won two Big Ten tournament championships, one regular-season title and the program's first national title. Purdue defeated Duke 62-45 Sunday night for the championship in her last coaching appearance with the Boilermakers.

Peck now leaves to become coach and general manager of the WNBA expansion team the Orlando Miracle.

Peck was named to the Orlando job last summer, but wanted to stay at Purdue in part because the team's two stars, Stephanie White-McCarty and Ukari Figgs, already had played for three different coaches in three years. She wasn't about to have them play for a fourth as seniors.

They paid her back by putting her into an elite group. Peck, still full of youthful exuberance at 33, is just the 11th different coach -- and the first black -- to win an NCAA women's championship.

"It's an accomplishment, but there are several other African-American women that have allowed the opportunity for me, a lot of women in general," Peck said. "I didn't win a national championship because of the color of my skin. We won a national championship because of the 15 young women that are on our team and how hard they play together."

That comment was typical of Peck, who always deflected the attention to her players. As the spotlight on the team increased during its tournament run, Peck steadfastly refused to talk about her new job and kept the focus on Purdue.

When a reporter at the Midwest Regional asked her about it, Peck shot back, "We got that out of the way in July." End of discussion.

Now she has to start paying attention to Orlando because the WNBA's expansion draft is April 6. She's definitely going into it on a high.

"It's been great," Peck said. "I was very fortunate to start my college career with this team. They are awesome."

That they were.

Purdue, which finished 34-1 with 32 straight victories, gave an indication of the kind of season this might be when it beat Tennessee, which had won the last three national championships, in its very first game. The Boilermakers won at Arizona the next time out, lost by a point at Stanford three days later and then never lost again.

But for Peck, it actually began with an offseason trip to Europe for some exhibition games.

"When we first planned the trip, every coach that I talked to about doing it said it's the best thing for bonding when ... you feel like you've got the team to make a run," Peck said. "So that's what the trip to Europe was about.

"We got together for 10 days. We worked on things because we had everybody back. So we took what we had done last year, we fine-tuned it and we were able to add a few new things for this year."

With White-McCarty and Figgs leading the way, and sophomore Katie Douglas developing into a big scorer as well, the Boilermakers made that run under the calm guidance of a coach who could have coasted through the season but never did.

Peck yelled only when necessary. Mostly she clapped, smiled and offered a word or two or encouragement.

"She was always positive toward the team no matter what we were doing," Douglas said. "When we look over and we see her get fired up, we just want to please her and go out and play hard and get fired up with her."

The title game was the first since 1993 without either Louisiana Tech or Tennessee. It was just the second Final Four appearance for Purdue and the first for Duke, which had gotten there by beating Tennessee in the East Regional finals. Purdue eliminated Louisiana Tech in the national semifinals.

So maybe that will be Peck's brief legacy as a college coach, showing that a team doesn't have to be part of the old guard to win the national championship.

"It has been a battle all year long for other teams to be noticed outside of Tennessee and Connecticut," Peck said. "They have gotten a lot of media coverage that has been very well deserved.

"I don't want to take anything away from those two programs, but the nation has come to learn that there are other good teams that are playing."

Related information
Purdue beats Duke 62-45 to claim first women's title
After slow first half, Figgs sparks Purdue, named MVP
White-McCarty injured in final minutes of Purdue win
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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