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Purdue’s Figs Overcomes Cold Start

March 29, 1999

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Purdue’s Ukari Figgs wasn’t about to let it end this way. After failing to score a point in the first half, she came out in the second to make sure the Boilermakers got their national championship.

Figgs has played most of her collegiate career in the shadow of fellow guard and Indiana star Stephanie White-McCarty. She certainly continued that in the first half against Duke on Sunday night.

The senior guard went 0-for-7 from the floor and the shortcoming reflected on her entire team. The Boilermakers trailed 22-17 at the half.

She scored her first basket 17 seconds into the second half. Less than a minute later, she scored again, bringing Purdue within 22-21. The Boilermakers wrestled for the lead, but didn’t take it until Figgs’ driving layup at 12:57 made it 32-30.

Along with that go-ahead basket, Figgs had eight points as Purdue went on a 12-4 run to extend the lead to 42-34. The Boilermakers led the rest of the way.

When Figgs finally caught fire, White-McCarty casually held out her hand as she passed by her best friend during a lull in play. Figgs hit it, and each smiled. The Boilermakers were making their big move.

Figgs finished with 18 points as she and White-McCarty capped their college careers with a 62-45 victory over Duke for the national championship.

White-McCarty and Figgs form what has been called the best women’s backcourt in the country. Figgs quietly and competently played her game, while White-McCarty grabbed a lot of the attention in her home state _ leading many of their teammates to call Figgs Purdue’s unsung hero.

Figgs proved her worth during the Final Four. Against Louisiana Tech in the semifinals, Figgs scored 24 points, 18 in the first half. She also had 10 rebounds and went 5-of-7 on 3-pointers.

The national championship was the culmination of a turbulent tenure at Purdue for both Figgs and White-McCarty.

Both started as high school standouts. White-McCarty reached megastar status in the small town of West Lebanon, and was named Miss Basketball in Indiana. Figgs was Miss Basketball in Kentucky.

Both chose Purdue, but after their freshman year, coach Lin Dunn was fired. Then sophomore-year coach Nell Fortner left to coach the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Some players, including Duke’s Nicole Erickson and Michele Van Gorp, gave up on Purdue and transferred.

Figgs and White-McCarty stayed, and it paid off when Purdue assistant Carolyn Peck was named coach. Together, they began a two-year quest that landed them at the San Jose Arena on Sunday.

White-McCarty was more steady Sunday night, but left the game with about four minutes to go with what appeared to be a left ankle injury. As White-McCarty cried on the bench, Figgs made sure the Boilermakers stayed focused.

When the final buzzer sounded and many of the rest of their teammates celebrated at midcourt, Figgs headed to the bench and threw her arms around White-McCarty, by then on crutches.

Each cried tears of joy.

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