Duke Women Fall Short of NCAA Championship
Posted March 27, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
SAN JOSE, CALIF. — All was quiet on the Duke University campus Sunday night. The students there had hoped to celebrate a NCAA women's championship victory, and a double win for both the men's and women's teams.
But their celebration was cut short when Purdue defeated Duke 62-45, and won their first championship title.
Less than an hour earlier, at the halftime mark, Duke was leading 22-17, leaving fans who had traveled to San Jose, Calif., and the fans who had stayed at home in Durham, excited and hopeful about what would happen in the second half.
As fans had poured into the San Jose Arena for Sunday's championship game, there was a feeling that history was about to be made.
"People are into it, and it just goes to show that the women have come a long way and have a really good fanbase," said Hillary McKinney, a graduate of Duke University.
"I don't think I ever saw a women's game while I was at Duke, but good basketball is good basketball," said Monroe Bridges, another Duke alumnus.
The Duke women played great basketball against the Georgia Bulldogs Friday night; their win advanced them to the championship game Sunday. It was a win they had shared with the Duke men.
"The men are expected to be there, but it's just a step for our program," said Duke guard Hilary Howard. "And first and foremost, those guys are our friends, and so it's nice to see them do well.
At a press conference Saturday, the Duke women looked relaxed on the eve of facing Purdue.
"We're the underdogs so I don't really feel like we have any pressure on us," said Michele VanGorp in Saturday's press conference. "We're just out here trying to enjoy this and trying to fulfill our dreams and goals."
But fans had a more optimistic outlook.
Inside Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, hundreds gathered in hopes that the Duke women would steamroll Purdue and that the momentum would carry over into Monday night with a big win for the men and a double Duke championship.
"The Duke spirit really goes beyond these walls and I think that the turnout here tonight will really affect the players where they're playing right now," said Duke student Tracy Hresko at halftime. "I think we really have a connection with them."
Still, the fans learned that Duke basketball is not just about the men's team.
"At the end of the season, we realized that the women were doing just as great as the guys are," said Duke student Melissa McKeown. "And they really deserved to be looked at."
Jennifer Kindinger had hoped that her double-decker Duke hat would help the teams pull off a double championship.
"My roommate and I have been talking all year that we really wanted to win the men's championship this year -- our senior year, our last year," said Kindinger. "And the women having the chance to do double is just incredible."
Students and alumni were not the only ones, however, hoping that there would be a double victory.
Duke President Nan Keohane and some of her colleagues had been traveling 2,367 miles back and forth between San Jose and St. Petersburg, Fla. to support the teams.
"It's been really great. I mean we're going on an adrenaline high," said Keohane. "It's amazing how close the two coasts seem when they're filled with people who are excited about Duke and great basketball teams."
The Duke men's team, which, according to the Associated Press, is favored to win the NCAA championship, will face Connecticut Monday at 9:18 p.m. in St. Petersburg.
Had both teams won, Duke would have been the first team since 1984 to win both the men's and women's NCAA championship titles. Now, that credit still belongs to Central Missouri State.