Jan. 10, 2006
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Former University of Notre Dame All-America center and 2001 consensus National Player of the Year Ruth Riley has been selected as one of the top 25 women’s college basketball players of the past 25 years, according to ESPN.com. The list of all-time greats, which was chosen by ESPN.com columnist (and Kansas City Star reporter) Mechelle Voepel, ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman, and ESPN.com coordinator of women’s basketball coverage Melanie Jackson, was released Tuesday in conjunction with the silver anniversary celebration of the inaugural NCAA women’s basketball season in 1981-82.
A native of Macy, Ind., Riley was tapped as one of the legends of the sport in part because of her contributions in the NCAA Tournament, where she led Notre Dame to three NCAA Sweet 16 appearances and the 2001 national championship. In the ’01 NCAA title game vs. Purdue, Riley tallied 28 points (on 9-of-13 shooting), 13 rebounds and seven blocks, not to mention the two game-winning free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining which snapped a 66-66 tie. It was an effort that Voepel termed on ESPN.com as “the third-best all-time championship game performance in NCAA history.” That outing capped a six-game NCAA tourney stretch in which the 6-foot-5 post averaged 23.2 points and 9.0 rebounds per game while shooting at a .632 clip (48-of-76).
In 14 career NCAA Tournament games, Riley averaged 19.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game, and she still holds the tournament career record with 39 blocks. She was named the Most Outstanding Player at the 2001 NCAA Women’s Final Four, after garnering the same honor at the NCAA Midwest Regional a week earlier. While leading the Irish to a school-record 34-2 mark and a share of the BIG EAST Conference regular-season title, not to mention the ’01 NCAA crown, she also picked up the Naismith Award as the national player of the year, and received similar accolades from the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and Sports Illustrated for Women.
Riley was a two-time first-team Associated Press All-America selection and two-time CoSIDA Academic All-America choice, earning Academic All-America Team Member of the Year honors in 2001. In addition, she was a three-time first team all-BIG EAST selection, earning the league’s Player of the Year award in 2001 and the conference Defensive Player of the Year hardware three consecutive years. The only player in school history to amass 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career (2,072 points/1,007 rebounds), Riley also is the Irish all-time leader in seven statistical categories, including blocked shots (370 – fifth in NCAA history) and field goal percentage (.632 – 11th in NCAA history).
Since graduating from Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters in 2001 with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology, Riley has gone on to even greater success in the professional and international basketball ranks. She was selected fifth overall in the ’01 WNBA Draft by the now-defunct Miami Sol, and later was the No. 1 overall choice in the 2003 WNBA Dispersal Draft by the Detroit Shock, for whom she currently plays. Riley went on to be named the Most Valuable Player of the 2003 WNBA Finals after leading Detroit to the title, making her the only women’s basketball player ever to be named Finals MVP at both the college and professional levels. In 2004, Riley earned a spot on the U.S. Senior National Team that won the gold medal at the Athens Olympics, placing her among an elite group of six players who have earned an NCAA title, WNBA crown and Olympic gold in their careers.
— ND —