Women handled hurdles to arrive at Final Four


C It took a while, but Purdue women's basketball coach Lin Dunn has found the only negative aspect to reaching the NCAA women's Final Four this weekend in Richmond, Va.

For the first time in her seven years at Purdue, Dunn actually will be on duty, coaching the Boilermakers as they pursue their first national championship. That means she won't be available to entertain her colleagues in the lobby of the coaches' headquarters hotel.

"I just realized when we made the Final Four that the weekend would lose some of its vacation nature," Dunn said during a national telephone news conference. "I would gladly give up being All-Lobby to coach in the Final Four."

In addition to Dunn, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell and Alabama coach Rick Moody will be making their first appearances in the national semifinals in a year when the four teams alive represent women's basketball's continued move toward parity.

Until last season, when four new teams reached the final weekend, a person could pencil in four No. 1 seeds for their office Final Four women's pool and feel pretty secure.

However, only one top regional seed, Purdue, has advanced to this year's championship round, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the women's Final Four, both the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the final Associated Press poll are absent.

"I don't think I've ever seen four teams that have demonstrated such great basketball to get to this point," said Leon Barmore, coach at Louisiana Tech, the fourth participant. "If I was a betting man and I had $1,000, I wouldn't know who to bet on. It's going to be a great Final Four."

Each of the teams overcame significant tournament hurdles to reach the Final Four.

The Tar Heels (31-2), for instance, who were seeded third in the East, beat Vanderbilt, which reached last year's Final Four, without forward Charlotte Smith, who was suspended for fighting in a second-round game.

Louisiana Tech (30-3), the fourth seed in the Mideast, first defeated top-ranked Tennessee, avenging a December humiliation, and Southern California, the region's second seed in the regionals, while Alabama (26-6), the sixth seed in the Midwest, beat Iowa on the road in the second round, then turned back top-seeded Penn State in the regional final.

Purdue (29-4), however, might have pulled off the most significant feat.

Though the Boilermakers, who shared the Big Ten title with Penn State, were given the West's top seed, their reward was to play Stanford on its home court, Maples Pavilion, where the Cardinal had won 107 of its previous 110 home games, for the regional championship.

But Purdue did the improbable, beating second-seeded Stanford, 82-65, before a packed house in Palo Alto, Calif.

"I said to my assistants, 'I don't see how they can play this well every game,' but after talking to some people and seeing some film, I see they do play that well every game," Hatchell said.

The Tar Heels and Boilermakers will play in the second semifinal game Saturday, and although the two schools have never met before, each bear striking similarities in their play, as both like to run and play physical defense.

In the first contest, a rematch of a December game in which Alabama blasted Louisiana Tech, 99-77, in Tuscaloosa, the Techsters, who have won 24 straight, will have to find a way to keep the Crimson Tide's three-guard rotation of senior Betsy Harris and juniors Madonna Thompson and Niesa Johnson from running wild.

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