Every basket must count!

Bush to Notre Dame women's basketball team: You won, no matter what anybody tells you.

By Jake Tapper
Published April 23, 2001 6:38PM (EDT)

On the South Lawn of the White House Monday, President Bush formally congratulated the winning Duke University Blue Devils men's basketball team and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish women's basketball team for winning the 2001 NCAA championships.

"I know it took a lot of hard work to get here, and there were some very close games and tough contests," Bush said, singling out the Notre Dame women's team. "Particularly the 'Fighting Irish' in their final -- in the final game won in the last second."

Notre Dame beat Purdue 68-66 after center Ruth Riley hit two free throws with 5.8 seconds left on the clock.

Bush quoted Murphy McGraw, the son of Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "He said, 'That was scary,'" Bush recalled. "Murphy, I know what you're talking about. It reminds me of Election Night."

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ST. LOUIS (May 7, 2001) -- The protracted battle for the NCAA women's basketball championship finally ended last night -- 36 days after the final buzzer was to have rung -- as a majority of the NCAA judicial board awarded the trophy to Notre Dame.

The decision ends the longest overtime in basketball history -- and the most heatedly contested NCAA women's basketball championship this country has ever seen.

The game was fraught with complications before the buzzer ever even sounded. One minute into the second half, TV networks broadcasting the game, using faulty projections, awarded the game to the Purdue Boilermakers -- a call that later had to be recanted.

"The game wasn't over when the [expletive deleted] media declared that it was, just because they favor Purdue," one Notre Dame assistant coach groused.

Soon enough, however, the media organizations realized their mistakes, and the game resumed. Then, with but two seconds left on the clock, a referee who just happened to be a first cousin to Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw declared the game over, awarding the trophy to the Irish, who, he said, had eked out a victory by half a point.

Unaware that the referee was McGraw's cousin, Purdue coach Kristy Curry phoned McGraw to congratulate her on her team's victory.

Chaos ensued as Notre Dame players spilled out onto the floor, only to be told that the game was not, in fact, over, and that NCAA officials would be reviewing the videotape of the game to make their final ruling.

As the lady cagers left the court sullen and confused, lawyers from all over the country swarmed into the Savvis Center. Curry phoned McGraw to recant her original congratulatory message. The NCAA defended its hiring of McGraw's cousin.

Attorneys began arguing before NCAA officials as to what mistakes referees had allegedly made or not made during the game.

Curry and her assistant coaches and attorneys pointed to shots that Purdue players had made that were intended to go into the basket, but hadn't.

"Those should be counted as baskets," Curry insisted. Several Purdue representatives decried the anachronistic rims and nets at the Savvis Center.

Notre Dame officials, meanwhile, decried Purdue's tactics.

"We won when the buzzer sounded, we won when the NCAA looked at the tapes and we won, like, a year ago," McGraw said. She decried Purdue's attempts to have baskets included in the final score -- despite the fact that a review of the videotape did show several baskets that should have counted that weren't.

Questionable, rather unsportswomanlike behavior, abounded. While McGraw argued, during an interview on ESPN, against the inclusion of various Purdue baskets that were clearly baskets, representatives from Notre Dame encouraged the addition of various uncounted Notre Dame baskets that the videotape had revealed.

For her part, buried in her arguments on behalf of uncounted baskets, Curry also argued in favor of baskets that clearly hadn't fallen through the net.

Backed by chants of "Count every basket," the Boilermakers' attorneys nonetheless argued vociferously against the inclusion of Notre Dame baskets. And they demanded that NCAA officials only inspect videotape from the first half of the game, when the Boilermakers led by 12.

The debate was further complicated when it was revealed that one of the NCAA officials was co-chairman of the state's Fighting Irish Booster Club.

After several trips to various Missouri courtrooms, the NCAA judicial board finally handed down a controversial split decision, awarding the trophy to McGraw and the Fighting Irish. The ruling, poorly written and speciously argued, finally put an end to the matter, though it also put an asterisk next to the Fighting Irish victory.

Calls for the NCAA to review its rules and practices have appeared to have lost momentum.

"We won, we won then and we win now and we win win win," said a Notre Dame spokesman.

Purdue Coach Curry returned to teaching and is said to have already gained 30 pounds.

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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