Former Purdue coach finds rooting interest on each side; Erickson, VanGorp played for Dunn; Goestenkors was an assistant to her; Women's Final Four notebook

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- With Duke and Purdue preparing to play for the women's national championship tonight, one person will come out a winner no matter what happens.

Lin Dunn, a consultant for the Women's NBA, coached Purdue from 1987 to 1996. One of her assistants was Gail Goestenkors, who left to coach Duke in 1992. Dunn coached Nicole Erickson, Michele VanGorp, Stephanie White-McCarty and Ukari Figgs at Purdue before she was fired at the end of the 1995-96 season.

Erickson and VanGorp then left and joined Goestenkors at Duke. White-McCarty and Figgs stayed, creating a story line that Goestenkors grew weary of yesterday when Erickson and VanGorp were asked about the topic.

Goestenkors inserted a "no" command into the air before either of the pair could respond.

"We're really tired of it," she said. "I know it's very interesting for all of you. It's all very old for all of us. We're not going to answer any other questions about it if you don't mind. It was the best thing for everybody. Everybody is happy now. We're all at the Final Four. We just need to let well enough alone."

"It's good for them [the Boilermakers] that they are here," Erickson said Friday night. "They are just going to be somebody we have to beat, possibly to win the national championship."

No one is happier than Dunn, who has a happy dilemma in whom to root for.

"I'm hoping that somehow they'll tie and go into three overtimes, and they'll just call the game off and name them both national champions," said Dunn, who was coaching the Portland Power of the American Basketball League before the league folded.

Dunn didn't think much of the chance that Duke and Purdue would be playing each other for the national title.

"I'm caught off-guard, because I didn't expect this," Dunn said. "I don't know many people who picked Duke and Purdue. If you did, I want you to buy me a Powerball ticket."

Erickson and VanGorp, who have spoken this week about what they perceived as the unfairness of Dunn's dismissal and how it prompted their departure from Purdue, greeted Dunn after Duke's win over Georgia in the semifinal.

Both players have progressed since their arrival at Duke, and while White-McCarty and Figgs form part of America's best backcourt for Purdue, VanGorp became a Kodak All-American this season, and Erickson has averaged 19.3 points in the last four games.

"They were just babies then," Dunn said of the four players. "It's been interesting to see them grow as players, but also as young women. That's been fun to watch from afar."

Pulling rank

Here's one precedent in favor of Purdue: Since the Associated Press women's basketball poll began in 1977, top-ranked teams that reached the national final have never lost there. Eight teams have that distinction -- Old Dominion (1979 and 1980), Louisiana Tech (1982), Southern California (1983), Texas (1986), Tennessee (1989 and 1998) and Connecticut (1995).

Already, Duke's stay in San Jose is a lot better than the one it enjoyed earlier in the season. The Blue Devils, who began the season ranked No. 4 in the country, were routed in their season opener, a 104-74 loss to Connecticut in the Four in the Fall event at the San Jose Arena. Before the game against Georgia, Duke's Hilary Howard said: "We were hoping to start in San Jose and end up here. It's just tremendous that it's worked out."

Peck credits team

Coach Carolyn Peck is the second African-American to reach the national title game, following C. Vivian Stringer, who lost to Louisiana Tech while coaching Cheyney State in 1982.

Peck played down that detail. "I can't say that it is because of the color of my skin that I am where I am," she said. "It is because of this team, and that's what this is all about, getting here for this team."

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