March 31, 2001

AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) – Their final appearances as high school basketball players came in an all-star series. Two were teammates, the other an opponent.

Remarkably, Ruth Riley, Katie Douglas and Camille Cooper have come together again for their last game as college seniors – on a far bigger stage, with much more at stake.

Riley will lead Notre Dame against Douglas and Cooper of Purdue in the national championship game Sunday night, an all-Indiana final, the women’s version of a real-life “Hoosiers” story.

Notre Dame (33-2) is trying to win its first title. Purdue (31-6) is going for its second in three years.

“It’s weird how it worked out,” Douglas said. “I don’t think the script could have been written any better for me personally and for our team.”

After their senior year in high school, Katie Douglas and Ruth Riley were on an Indiana all-star team that played two games against a Kentucky team featuring Cooper.

Each team won in its own state and the series began a Riley-Cooper duel that has continued into college.

Both are classic back-to-the-basket, post-up centers, Camille Cooper long and lean at 6-foot-4, Ruth Riley a bit sturdier at 6-5. It’s the marquee matchup in the season’s marquee game.

“Every time we’ve faced Purdue, it’s been a matchup between Camille and I,” said Riley, the AP national player of the year. “She’s a great post player and you have to step your game up when you play against a player like that.

“I think we are kind of identical in the way we play our game, kind of old-school post. I think it will be a good matchup.”

Notre Dame and Purdue have split four games during the Riley and Cooper years, the most memorable being Purdue’s 70-65 win in the third round of the 1998 NCAA tournament. They met this season on Dec. 9, with Notre Dame winning 72-61 as Riley scored 15 points and Cooper 11.

Cooper knows exactly what she has to do against her All-American rival.

“Don’t let her get the ball,” Cooper said. “She’s a very talented post player. I’ve played against her a few times and I’m always excited for the challenge. One way to stop her is to not let her get the ball, so we’ll work on that.”

Connecticut kept the ball out of Riley’s hands in the first half of Friday night’s semifinal. Riley got only two shots, scored just two points and Notre Dame trailed by 12 at halftime.

But Riley came back with 16 points in the second half and Notre Dame rallied for a 90-75 victory to reach the championship game for the first time. It was an emotional win for the Irish against their Big East rival – in a game many viewed as the true championship game – but they haven’t forgotten there’s still one to go.

“Our goal the whole year long was to win the national championship and we are one game away from that,” Notre Dame forward Kelley Siemon said. “I don’t think the win against Connecticut has overshadowed that final goal, so I think we are going to be ready.”

The title game brings together two schools only 107 miles apart, the first time teams from the same state have met for the championship. They could have stayed home to play this one in Logansport or Kokomo.

Players from both teams were peppered with questions about Indiana basketball, though Riley – who lives near the tiny town of Macy – is the only homegrown Hoosier at Notre Dame. Purdue has five players from Indiana and yes, they like the movie “Hoosiers.”

“I actually just bought it on DVD,” said point guard Kelly Komara, who’s from Schererville, Ind. “So it’s one of my favorite movies of all time, behind ‘Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.’ I think it goes to Indiana basketball and the underdog coming up.

“We have always felt like the underdog in this tournament, so we are hopefully going to come out and have the same outcome as the movie.”

In this case, it would be an underdog with a championship pedigree.

Douglas and Cooper started on Purdue’s 1999 title team and Komara was a reserve. The Boilermakers won that championship with Carolyn Peck as coach. Peck left for the WNBA’s Orlando Miracle after that season, Kristy Curry took over and here they are again.

Notre Dame’s point guard, St. Louis native Niele Ivey, sprained her left ankle late in Friday night’s game. Trainers treated the ankle Saturday morning and Ivey said she’ll be ready Sunday night, leading and talking just like always.

“I hope they listen,” she said with a smile. “I talk a lot. I’m the jokester and the comedian off the court, but on the court, I’m all about basketball.”