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Fight to the finish
No. 1 Purdue survives Illinois to win Big Ten Tournament
Posted: Monday March 01, 1999 11:02 PM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Purdue was challenged and Stephanie White-McCarty was ready.
White-McCarty scored 31 points, including four free throws in the final 33 seconds, as the No. 1 Boilermakers held off Illinois 80-76 Monday night to win their 26th straight game and repeat as Big Ten tournament champions.
"It's a tribute to our experience," said White-McCarty, who was named the most valuable player in the tournament and became the sixth leading scorer in Big Ten women's basketball.
Purdue had to overcome a four-point deficit in the final three minutes and got a big boost when Ukari Figgs hit a 3-pointer with 2:48 to play.
"I didn't think a lot. I just shot it," said Figgs, who contributed 14 points and six assists. "I got a good look and I knew the team was counting on me to step up."
Free throws played a crucial role in the outcome with Purdue hitting 16 of 22, while the Illini were 8-of-11.
"They are tremendous games," said Purdue coach Carolyn Peck. "They step up big. ... They are heady players. They are smart."
Third-seeded Illinois (18-11) battled back from a 47-38 deficit in the second half to take a 74-71 lead after two free throws from Tauja Catchings, who led Illinois with a career-high 26 points. White-McCarty knotted the score by hitting a 3-pointer with 2:07 to play.
"We felt like this was going to be our night. We fought hard. We just fell a little short," Catchings said.
"You have to give them credit. They aren't No. 1 in the country just because they have black and gold colors," said Illinois coach Theresa Grentz. "Figgs hit that shot at the top of the key and when White hit that shot (3-pointer), they were big time shots."
Purdue (28-1) took the lead for good on a free throw by Michell Duhart, who got a rebound after Katie Douglas missed a layup with 41.2 seconds to go. White-McCarty then got a rebound when Duhart missed her second shot and was fouled with 32.7 seconds remaining. She hit two free throws, making it 77-74. Susan Blauser's layup brought the Illini back to within one point, but White McCarty was fouled again with 17.6 seconds to go and made both free throws.
Illinois had its final hope for an upset end when Kelly Komara whacked the ball away from Lisa Guarneri and was fouled after getting the loose ball. She made one of two free throws to seal the victory.
Purdue will now wait until Sunday when the NCAA announces its tournament bracket to learn its next opponent. They are expected to be given a No. 1 seed which would make them the host team for the first two rounds.
White-McCarty raised her career total to 2,087 and needs just 11 in the NCAA tournament to move into third place in Big Ten scoring.
Douglas added 20 points and 11 rebounds for Purdue. Freshman Allison Curtin had a season-high 24, including four 3-pointers for Illinois.
"I was just feeling it today," said Curtin, who was 8-of-11 from the field with all her misses coming inside the arc.
White had 18 points in the first half, including 10 in a 12-2 run. Purdue was trailing Illinois 31-30 when White-McCarty got hot. Her 3-pointer ignited the run and following an Illini turnover, she hit a jumper. Another 3-pointer by the Purdue star gave her team a 42-33 lead and the Boilermakers led 44-38 at halftime.
"I don't think we did much in the first half. We were really getting a fell for each other," Gentz said. "In the second half, we took some punches, figuratively speaking, we were able to cause some problems by changing the configurations of the zone defense."
Figgs and Douglas joined White-McCarty on the all-tournament team, while Curtin and Catchings represented Illinois.
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