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Purdue Is a Part of Final Four in More Ways Than One

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There’s no crying in women’s basketball.

And Lin Dunn knows it.

But there she was--tough, blunt-speaking Lin Dunn--speechless, futilely using her hand to hold back the flood of tears rolling down her cheeks.

She’d been watching a Duke practice at the San Jose Arena on Thursday morning, seated in the stands. She’d just been asked how she felt about seeing so many of her former Purdue players reach the Final Four.

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No response. Five seconds went by. Then the tears spilled over the flood gates.

Happy tears, of course.

The hard-edged former Purdue and ABL coach, known to make referees and players cower, is one of the last people in women’s basketball you’d expect to see crying.

Four years ago, at Purdue, she recruited a team that might have eclipsed what Tennessee has accomplished in recent seasons. Then she encountered “philosophical differences” with Purdue administrators, left, and wound up coaching Portland in the ABL, which folded in December after 2 1/3 seasons.

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When she left Purdue, some of her players left with her.

Check out what happened to them:

* Summer Erb, a 6-foot-6 center, transferred to North Carolina State and played in the Final Four last year.

* Michele VanGorp, another 6-6 center, transferred to Duke and is in the Final Four this weekend. Ditto for Duke guard Nicole Erickson.

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* And two starters who stayed, recruited by Dunn, are here with Purdue--Ukari Figgs and Stephanie White-McCarty.

Nine of the 10 Purdue players from her 1995-96 team will, over a two-year span, have played in Final Fours for three schools.

“This is very emotional for me, to see this,” Dunn said, dabbing at tears.

“It is so rewarding--I sold all these kids on the Final Four as a goal for them, and here they are.”

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Here they are today indeed, where Georgia (27-6) plays Duke (28-6) at 4 p.m., and Louisiana Tech (30-2) plays Purdue (32-1) in the second game. The winners will meet for the national championship Sunday at 6 p.m.

Notice anything odd about that lineup? Right, no Tennessee orange this year. No three dozen renditions of “Rocky Top” by the Tennessee band.

And did we mention parity in the women’s game?

Both Dunn and Louisiana Tech’s coach, Leon Barmore, said this week that winning a regional tournament today is harder than it was to win a Final Four 10 years ago.

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Tennessee’s coach, Pat Summitt would probably agree, seeing as how Duke ended the Lady Vols’ season with that 69-63 stunner on Monday. That meant, of course, that both the men’s and women’s teams from Duke are still in the national championship picture.

Duke Coach Gail Goestenkors--she’s known as Coach G, just as men’s Coach Mike Krzyzewski is known as Coach K--is a Final Four rookie, but Georgia’s Andy Landers is making his fifth appearance.

His team, led by sophomore twins Coco and Kelly Miller, started the season with 14 straight wins, lost to Tennessee, 102-69, then ended the regular season with another loss to Tennessee, 85-69.

The Lady Bulldogs have apparently hit on a tournament rhythm, however. They’ve beaten Liberty, SMU, Clemson and Iowa State--all by at least 13 points.

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Louisiana Tech-Purdue is a rematch. Purdue beat the Lady Techsters, 71-65, at the Boilermaker Blockbuster tournament at Indianapolis in December.

And Tech hasn’t lost since, winning its last 22, most recently doing an 88-62 number on UCLA last Monday.

Purdue brings the longest winning streak to San Jose, 30 since a 73-72 loss at Stanford in December.

Louisiana Tech’s Barmore is making his 10th Final Four appearance, having won it all in 1988. He’s 8-7 at the Final Four and brings the fastest and highest-leaping team in the tournament.

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When the Lady Techsters were asked about their early-season loss to Purdue, Amanda Wilson waved the question away.

“We were just trying to develop ourselves as a team then,” she said. “And I think we’re at that point now . . . where I think now we’re ready to win the national championship.”

Women’s Basketball Notes

Speculation has UCLA junior point guard Erica Gomez, whose class graduates in June, not returning for a fourth season and instead declaring for the WNBA draft in April. At the moment, she’s not talking. . . . Next year’s women’s Final Four is in Philadelphia. . . . Dunn said that when VanGorp and Erickson left Purdue, they nearly transferred to Tennessee before deciding on Duke. . . . Wisconsin set an NCAA women’s record this season with six overtime games, four of them in succession. The Badgers won five of them. . . . When Louisiana Tech takes the floor for pregame warmups, 7-year-old Makenzie Robertson, wearing long braids, dribbles out with them and takes a layup or two. She is the daughter of assistant coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, former Tech All-American and 1984 Olympian. The pigtails duplicate Mulkey’s ’84 hairdo. . . . ESPN’s rating for Monday’s Duke-Tennessee game was 2.1, its most-watched non-Final Four women’s game. In fact, only the 1996 national championship game, won by Tennessee over Connecticut, had a higher rating, 2.5. . . . Tennessee’s Chamique Holdsclaw, already the first three-time All-American, achieved another breakthrough when she became the first to repeat as the Associated Press player of the year. Purdue’s Carolyn Peck was named coach of the year.

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* LOOSE TALK: Why women basketball players go for baggy uniform look. E1


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