April 1, 2001
By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) – In the biggest game of her career, the women’s player of the year looked the part.
Notre Dame went to Ruth Riley all night in the NCAA final, and the 6-foot-5 center from tiny Macy, Ind., didn’t disappoint. Riley had 28 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the Irish’s 68-66 victory over Purdue on Sunday night.
For the capper, Riley hit the clinching free throws with 5.8 seconds to go, leading the Fighting Irish to their first NCAA women’s title.
“This is the only thing I wanted,” Riley said. “To be able to share this with my teammates is unbelievable. … We worked so hard that it was fitting to end the season this way.”
Purdue ran post players in waves in an all-out effort to control Riley. The Boilermakers collapsed on her whenever she got the ball, and tried their best to get Riley into foul trouble by forcing the ball inside on the offensive end.
None of it affected the tournament’s most outstanding player. Riley cleared the 1,000 career mark with her rebound total, and she was only four points shy of her season-best 32-point outing against Vanderbilt.
“She played a great game,” Purdue All-American Katie Douglas said. “If she was not blocking a shot, she was altering a shot.
“She was getting a lot of rebounds, and it was just her night.”
Riley, Notre Dame’s lone in-state player in the all-Indiana final, was a constant source of offense for a team that went cold from 3-point range. Notre Dame made it to the final on the strength of 8-for-11 long-range shooting in the semifinals against Connecticut, but was 1-for-10 in the final against Purdue.
Alicia Ratay, Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer with a 13-point average, was off her game and in foul trouble all night. Ratay, who had 20 points in the semifinals, was 1-for-6 and scored only three points, although her lone 3-pointer tied it at 62.
“I thought, ‘Hallelujah!”‘ coach Muffet McGraw said. “It was such a big shot for her and I was pleased with her courage in taking the shot.”
Riley picked up the slack, and she was there especially at the end. Taking a baseline feed from Ratay, Riley tied it at 66 with 1:01 to go.
With the score still tied, she was fouled with 6.8 seconds to go after catching a lob pass.
“I think everybody in the gym knew the ball was going to Ruth, and that’s where it went,” McGraw said.
The first free throw bounced in as she contorted her body, and she also bounced in her second shot.
Riley had been in this spot before, so it didn’t bother her.
“As crazy as this might sound, I wasn’t really nervous,” Riley said. “I was in this situation against Connecticut and I didn’t really come through.
“So you can say I shot a lot of free throws in between that game and today.”
Notre Dame expected nothing less in the clutch.
“I felt really confident, actually,” teammate Kelley Siemon said. “I thought was going to make both of them. I know Ruth’s a great player who comes through in big situations, and obviously none bigger than this.”
Riley’s heroics made her coach a happy woman.
“I don’t know when I’ve been this excited,” McGraw said. “What can you say about Ruth Riley? What clutch on the free-throw line to make both of those free throws.”
When Notre Dame fell behind 19-7 midway through the first half, Riley was the player who brought the Irish back.
Riley, who only had one point at that stage, scored 11 points in a span of 3:54 to cut the gap to 21-18.