Filling their shoes
Purdue has challenge to return to title game
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -- Purdue coach Kristy Curry has had seven months to digest Katie Douglas' 18-footer at the buzzer that hit the front of the rim and bounced off the backboard against Notre Dame in the women's final.
One miss in a 68-66 loss to the Irish overshadowed a 31-7 record, a 15-1 mark at Mackey Arena and a Big Ten championship. For Curry, only a national title was good enough.
"It's so hard for me to be able to decipher how special it really was," said Curry. "All you remember is the loss. There's one team in the country that's going to walk away feeling good and we fell short of that."
Douglas, a two-time All American, has graduated along with Camille Cooper, twice an All-Big Ten selection.
But the Boilermakers have lost players of their caliber before, like Stephanie White-McCarty, Ukari Figgs and Stacey Lovelace. Each time there was a future star to take their place.
This year, that burden falls to sophomore forward Shereka Wright, a former national high school player of the year, who played behind Douglas last season. Wright started seven games, mostly when Douglas was out with a sprained ankle, and showed a glimpse of her potential with 25 points against Michigan.
"She expects to be an impact player, and she has expected that from day one," Curry said.
Wright spent her summer in China, winning a gold medal as part of the USA Basketball Women's World University Games team. She has similar goals for the No. 11 Boilermakers, who open the season Sunday against No. 4 Oklahoma in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic.
"I'm ready to lead my team to a national championship," she said.
When Purdue trailed, needed a key basket or clutch rebound last season, Curry could always count on Cooper and Douglas.
"Who will the player be now when we need a play to make the play?" Curry said.
She is counting on Wright, senior Kelly Komara and transfer Laura Meadows to be those impact players. Meadows, a senior forward, transferred from Kentucky following the 1999-2000 season because of philosophical differences with her coach.
Meadows is a strong post player with a talent for hitting 12- to 15-foot jumpers, Curry said.
"I'm not sure people understand how good of a player she is," Curry said. "She's going to make an impact for us. She's as good a post passer and I've ever seen. I told her it's time to be that offensive power that she wants to be."
Only Komara remains from Purdue's 1999 championship team. She spent most of last season at shooting guard.
But she expects to eat up plenty of minutes at the point early in the season because Erika Valek still hasn't fully recovered from a knee injury in a Midwest Regional playoff game.
"It's a gametime decision with Erika," Curry said. "It depends on how she's feeling. She's nowhere near where she'd like to be."
Mary Jo Noon, who also missed most of last year with a knee injury, will take over for Cooper at center.
"Mary Jo is the best back-to-the-basket player we've had at Purdue," Curry said.
Lindsey Hicks and freshman Emily Heikes will come off the bench and play the post, and Beth Jones and junior college transfer Mandy Davis will be the backups in the backcourt.
The entire team worked out a 6 a.m. during the off-season, the best turnout in Curry's three seasons. Players worked with a renewed sense of purpose to return to -- and this time win -- the championship.
That extra effort has helped Curry realize the strength of last year's team.
"I realize now how special it was," she said. "It's taken me until now to get to that point."