Updated: Saturday March 31, 2001 10:45 PM
By Richard Deitsch, Sports Illustrated
Purdue (3) vs. Notre Dame (1)
Who To Watch: Playing in her hometown in the biggest game of her career, Notre Dame point guard Niele Ivey gave a performance for the ages against UConn.
The fifth-year senior scored a game-high 21 points and showed great courage in returning for the final minutes after injuring her ankle late in the game. She was on crutches after the game but claimed it was merely a sprain. We'll wait and see.
Center Ruth Riley asserted herself in the second half against UConn and showed yet again why she is the Player of the Year in college basketball.
Sophomore guard Alicia Ratay is a gifted 3-point shooter -- arguably, the nation's best -- and hit huge shots against the Huskies during the second half comeback. Senior forward Kelley Siemon simply makes plays that beat you. Muffet McGraw predicted Siemon's improved play would be the difference for Notre Dame this season: She was right.
Purdue's swingman Katie Douglas does everything for the Boilermakers except sell popcorn and hand out game programs. She hits big shots, plays tough defense, dives for loose balls, and most notably, she wins. Douglas had 25 points, seven rebounds and was 3-of-5 from behind the arc against SMS.
Senior center Camille Cooper (16 points and 10 rebounds against SMS) is a terrific rebounder and low-post scorer. Her size and quickness will make things uncomfortable for Riley.
Senior guard Kelly Komara's value cannot be understated. When point guard Erika Valek went down, it could have been disastrous for Purdue. But the Boilermakers haven't missed a beat. Freshman Shalicia Hurns and Shereka Wright finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds between them and Hurns' defense on Jackie Stiles should be required viewing for any prospective college player.
What To Expect: It's the same old song for Notre Dame: The Irish want to play an inside-outside game with Ratay and Ivey spotting up for jumpers when they aren't feeding the ball to Riley deep in the post.
The key to the game? Riley must stay out of foul trouble.
When she was off the floor with two first half fouls against UConn, the Huskies lead ballooned to double digits. She returned in the second half, stayed out of foul trouble, and established the post for Notre Dame.
Look for Purdue to crash the boards as they did against the Lady Bears. Purdue destroyed the SMS on the boards, 46-22, and recorded a mind-blowing 21 offensive rebounds.
It would be natural for the Irish to have a letdown or come out flat early after such an emotional comeback win. The first five minutes of this game will be key for the Irish. Back on Dec. 9 at Notre Dame, the Irish defeated Purdue 72-61. Ratay was 5 of 8 from three-point land in the game.
Who Wins: We went 1 of 2 in our Final Four picks so you're forewarned about taking this as gospel.
Picking against Katie Douglas -- which we've now mistakenly done over the past two rounds -- has proven to be a big mistake. She is the rare player who can influence games beyond merely scoring. The Boilermakers have been a reflection of Douglas in the tournament: determined, fierce and playing big when it matters.
Similarly, the Irish could have folded against UConn and still would have received props for a tremendous season. But the team responded to the challenge behind seniors Ivey and Riley and produced the greatest comeback in the history of the Final Four.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in the press conference afterward that Notre Dame was the best team his squad had played this year. He's right. They're also the best team in the country and proved that convincingly on Friday night.
Now they're ready to take the final step.
Get ready to party, South Bend. It's the Irish by five, 77-72.