Friday, March 26, 1999

Purdue can't be given 'free' reign

Louisiana Tech must keep Boilers off line

The Associated Press

        SAN JOSE, Calif. — The basketball season has been one long parade for No. 1-ranked Purdue — a parade to the free throw line.

        To beat the Boilermakers, Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore says, that parade has to be stopped.

        Purdue and Louisiana Tech will meet tonight in the semifinals of the women's NCAA tournament Final Four, a game matching No. 1 seeds who have met once this season and have long winning streaks.

        The one that continues its streak will play for the national championship Sunday against the winner of tonight's first semifinal game between Duke and Georgia.

        “I don't think I've seen a basketball team, men or women, that shoots more free throws than Purdue,” Barmore said Thursday. “They dribble around until you foul them. If you don't foul them, they dribble around some more.

        “They get to the foul line as well as any team that I've seen play.”

        Purdue (32-1) has made 569 free throws, which is more than its opponents have attempted (495), and shoots 72.7 percent from the line.

        The Boilermakers' top three scorers, Stephanie White-McCarty, Ukari Figgs and Katie Douglas, all shoot at least 80 percent from the line.

        And Purdue's advantage at the line has been even more pronounced in the NCAA tournament as the Boilermakers have run their winning streak to 30. Purdue has made 85-of-123 free throws in four games, its opponents 22-of-43.

        Louisiana Tech (30-2) thrives on defensive pressure and has forced an average of 25 turnovers a game. The Lady Techsters' challenge tonight will be to keep up that pressure — without fouling.

        “It makes you become more focused because you don't want to go for the head fake,” Tech's Monica Maxwell said. “You don't want to get in early foul trouble and let your team down because you're on the bench.

        “They're very patient and they're very smart. They force you to play smart basketball or they're going to put you on the bench.”

        Louisiana Tech, making its 10th Final Four trip, has won 22 straight since a 71-65 loss to Purdue at Indianapolis on Dec. 19. And guess where Purdue had a big edge? The Boilermakers were 21-of-29 at the line in that game, Louisiana Tech 6-for-13.

        Tech is playing much better now. Only one team has come closer than 14 points since that loss, and the Lady Techsters have won their four NCAA tournament games by an average of 26.5 points.

        “They're clicking on all cylinders right now,” Purdue coach Carolyn Peck said. “Monica Maxwell has played extremely well. There's no other way I could describe her than an animal on the boards. She really has a nose for the ball.”

        Maxwell has averaged 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in the tournament. Amanda Wilson, a second-team All-American, is Tech's season leader in scoring (16.5) and rebounding (8.0).

        “They're very quick, with the ball and without the ball,” said White-McCarty, a unanimous All-American. “It's just going to come down to our communication and team defense. We have to get back in transition and we have to help each other out in the half-court.”

        White-McCarty, Figgs and Douglas make Purdue difficult to defend because all three can shoot, drive and pass. When teams commit too much in their direction, it frees up 6-foot-4 Camille Cooper, who scored a career-high 20 points in the Midwest Regional finals against Rutgers.

        “I think they have a lot of fun working for each other,” Peck said. “We don't have any selfish players. I think they have a lot of fun setting up opportunities for each other.”

        Barmore thinks so much of White-McCarty that he voted her his player of the year over Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw.

        “I respect that she took a team of less talent than say a Tennessee ... and she has them knocking on the door of a national championship,” he said.