Sure, Southwest Missouri State's Jackie Stiles shoots 1,000 jump shots a day. But is that what made her the NCAA's career scoring leader, or is it the shoes? Stiles wears the Cynthia Cooper brand shoe made by Nike. But not only is the former Houston Comets star retired, so is her shoe. Nike discontinued making the 1997 model that Stiles prefers.

"I just love these shoes," Stiles said. "They fit my feet so well."

Problem is Stiles is so hard on her shoes that she has gone through 10 pairs. Because Nike no longer makes the Cynthia Cooper brand, Stiles has run into problems lately finding the size-9 shoe.

"I mentioned it in some papers," Stiles said. "Nike has been looking all over, and I think they pulled out a pair . . . [from] the archives. I just got them right before we went and played Duke in Washington."

Stiles scored 32 points in that game to lead the Lady Bears to the Final Four. The only thing is, the shoes are black.

"I've never worn black shoes before, but I'll wear black because they are my coveted Cynthia Cooper shoes," Stiles said.

Speaking the Same Language

Coaches and players usually develop a bond during the recruiting process. But for Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma and freshman guard Diana Taurasi, that connection ran deeper than just basketball.

Taurasi's father was born in Italy, not far from where Auriemma was born. He speaks Italian more easily than he does English, so Auriemma spoke Italian during most of the home visit. "I could really relate to what Diana is doing," Auriemma said. "When I was in high school, my parents had no idea what I was doing. They had never been to school.

"Her parents really weren't in a position to help her make a decision or help her with the whole recruiting process. So I knew what she was going through, and I think we connected on some level, because of our experiences growing up."

Ticket Squeeze

With three teams within comfortable driving distance of St. Louis, the demand for Final Four tickets has been stronger than usual. Each school received 800 tickets for its fans. But all four teams said they could have distributed more.

"We could not come close to meeting the demand for tickets at Notre Dame," Irish Coach Muffet McGraw said. "We didn't even have a general sale. We could have used probably a couple thousand more tickets than we were allotted." . . .

Twenty years ago at the first women's NCAA tournament Final Four, 37 media credentials were issued. This year, the NCAA issued a record 785 credentials for the event. In 1982, 9,531 fans attended the championship game at The Scope in Norfolk. This year, the 19,404-seat Savvis Center is sold out.

Indiana Doubles Pleasure

This year marks the first time that two teams from the same state are in the women's Final Four. Notre Dame and Purdue are located in Indiana, a state known for its hoop hysteria.

"I think it says a lot for the type of players who do come out of Indiana," said Notre Dame center Ruth Riley, a Macy, Ind., native. "There's a lot of tradition that goes on with Indiana basketball and it's represented here."

Added Purdue guard Katie Douglas, who grew up in Indianapolis: "It shows you what kind of tradition we've had the past couple hundred years in Indiana. It is something special. Until you experience it, a lot of people don't know about it."

Southwest Missouri State's Jackie Stiles, size 9, has taken her search for a particular model of discontinued shoes to the media.