SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The top-ranked Purdue women's basketball team doesn't appear to believe in doing anything easy. Its foul shots roll tenuously around the rim before settling in, it keeps teams in the contest for longer than it should and it milks every second out of every possession.
But the Boilermakers also win, and their grind-it-out, down-to-the-wire style was good enough to defeat No. 3 Louisiana Tech, 77-63, in last night's national semifinal.
Purdue (33-1), now riding a 31-game winning streak, will play Duke tomorrow for the school's first national championship, thanks to the grit and guile of its senior backcourt of Ukari Figgs and Stephanie White-McCarty.
Figgs scored 18 of her game-high 24 points in the first half to give the Boilermakers a 40-27 halftime lead.
And in the second half, when the Lady Techsters mounted a challenge that shaved the lead down to three, White-McCarty kept Purdue in control with a steal and layup and an off-balance shot at the shot clock buzzer with 7: 55 to go for four of her 17 points.
The baskets punched the lead back to seven, and the Lady Techsters, who lost in last year's final, never threatened again.
"What you saw was a total team effort from all of us. Everybody played their role," said White-McCarty. "We never take anything for granted and just play together."
Tech's All-America forward Amanda Wilson had 18 points, 14 in the second half, and Monica Maxwell had 17 points, but the Lady Techsters fell short to a team that appears to smell a title.
"I don't think there's any other team that we've played all year that could have their lead cut to three, like they did, then keep their composure and then pull back away," said Tech coach Leon Barmore. "They executed and they proved to me that they belong and that they can win a national championship."
The Lady Techsters, who shot just 33 percent in the first half, erupted midway through the second half, when Maxwell hit a three-pointer, then Wilson scored on a banker off an inbounds pass, to get Louisiana Tech to within seven with 12: 25 to go.
Maxwell came out of nowhere to block a baseline jumper from Purdue reserve guard Tiffany Young with 11: 39 to go. Maxwell then let out a yell, struck a pose, and it looked as if Louisiana Tech (30-3), in its 10th Final Four, was in business.
But Figgs, White-McCarty and Katie Douglas, the heart of the Purdue perimeter, took over. Figgs matched a Betty Lennox three-pointer with one of her own at 8: 12 to give Purdue a 61-55 lead, then Douglas capped a 12-0 run with a three.
"That's the great thing about this team, we always keep our composure," said Figgs. "They made a run at us and we knew that we had to be more aggressive and do what we had been doing early. We didn't want to get rattled."
The Boilermakers gave three-time champion Tennessee its first loss of the season in November, and beat Louisiana Tech in December, but have since spent the rest of the season trying to prove to people that they were a title contender.
The doubting may stop tomorrow night.
"We've known and believed all year that we were one of the best teams in the country and if you sit around and listen to what everybody says, you won't get anywhere. We know what we're capable of," said Figgs.
Pub Date: 3/27/99