Purdue 62, Duke 45
Posted March 27, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — When Carolyn Peck joined the Purdue coaching staff, she found a picture frame and in it placed a sign: ``Reserved for Purdue's first national championship team.''
A picture of this season's team will go in that frame.
``You made history, ladies, and that's awesome,'' Peck told her team. ``Congratulations.''
The Purdue women won their first national title Sunday night with a come-from-behind 62-45 victory over Duke.
It was the perfect ending to a nearly perfect season as Peck and star guards Stephanie White-McCarty and Ukari Figgs all ended their college careers.
Peck, who has been head coach of the Boilermakers for two seasons, heads now to the Orlando Miracle of the WNBA. Team co-captains White-McCarty and Figgs are both seniors.
The fact was not lost on the rest of the team.
``Before the game, there were all kinds of emotions going on in this room and coach Peck just told us to use them to our advantage. We had people that were happy, we had people that were sad and had mixed emotions,'' junior guard Tiffany Young said. ``We knew that this was our last game and we wanted to come out on top no matter what.''
For a while, however, it looked like it might not happen.
The top-ranked Boilermakers had the lowest first-half point total in an NCAA championship game, trailing Duke 22-17. But White-McCarty and Figgs were not about to let their final game slip away.
The duo, lauded as one of the best backcourts in the nation, keyed a 12-1 run that put Purdue (34-1) ahead for good.
Figgs, who went 0-for-7 in a scoreless first half, had 18 points in the second. In the end, her performance earned her honors as the outstanding player of the Final Four.
``I knew I had 20 minutes to be a winner or a loser,'' Figgs said. ``I don't like being a loser.''
Duke (29-7) was left struggling to keep up. The Boilermakers, who had six turnovers in the first half, had just two in the second, one coming in the final minutes after they had built an 18-point lead.
Sadly, the victory wasn't all it could have been. With just over four minutes left, White-McCarty bent over in pain at midcourt. Figgs helped her best friend and teammate to the sidelines.
White-McCarty, who finished with 12 points, wailed in pain from the bench with a severe ankle sprain and was eventually taken from the court with her husband by her side. Her team, already riding on momentum, went on to make sure they claimed victory.
``We talked about winning the national championship, and I knew that it was hurting her probably more not being on the court than her ankle or foot was,'' Figgs said. '' I just wanted to go out and win it for her and myself and the rest of this team, but more for her at that time.''
The loss ended an improbable run through the tournament by Duke, as well as any hope of a unique ``double'' for the Blue Devils' basketball program. The Duke men are favored in tonight's men's championship game with Connecticut.
The Duke women earned their first Final Four trip by ending Tennessee's hopes for a fourth straight title, upsetting the Lady Vols in the East regional finals. But the Blue Devils' 45 points Sunday night were a season low and they shot only 32.7 percent.
``You know, we've come such a long way and we've been playing our best basketball,'' Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. ``So it's disappointing that your last game is not even close to being one of your best games.''
For Purdue, the victory put a fairy tale ending on four turbulent years with three different coaches. White-McCarty and Figgs endured it all.
After their freshman year, coach Lin Dunn was fired. Sophomore-year coach Nell Fortner left to join the U.S. Women's National Team.
White-McCarty and Figgs were among just three players who stayed in the upheaval. Michele VanGorp and Nicole Erickson, on the other side of the court for Duke Sunday night, were among those who transferred. VanGorp was the only Blue Devil in double figures with 15 points.
Peck, then a Purdue assistant, took over for Fortner and successfully guided her team to their title two years later. For her effort this season, she was honored as The Associated Press Coach of the Year.
But Peck put the credit on the seeds that Fortner planted, especially with White-McCarty and Figgs.
``Nell came in and she was the one who said, `All you've got to do is believe,''' Peck said. ``These two had to be leaders for this team as sophomores, and they convinced the rest of their team to believe. When you saw this from them, you know they were something special.''