Sometimes, legends do live up to the hype

Updated: March 22, 2006, 5:28 AM ET
By Graham Hays | ESPN.com

Editor's note: As the NCAA celebrates its 25th season of women's basketball, ESPN and ESPN.com count down the top 25 moments of NCAA Tournament history. Here, we continue the countdown with memorable NCAA moment No. 15, Jackie Stiles' 41-point performance to lead her fifth-seeded Lady Bears past top-seeded Duke in the 2001 Sweet 16.

Jackie Stiles
With her 41 points ousting No. 1 seed Duke in 2001, Jackie Stiles' night in Spokane "proved that sometimes legends live up to the hype."

To ensure her legendary college career ended in true storybook fashion, Jackie Stiles had to surpass even her own Bunyanesque scoring standards.

Stiles scored more points than any player in the history of NCAA Division I women's basketball, including an average of 30.3 points per game during her senior season at Southwest Missouri State (now just Missouri State). But against top-seeded Duke in a 2001 regional semifinal in Spokane, Wash., she proved that competing against the best only served to bring out the best in her.

Just a week after suffering a slight concussion in an opening-round win against Toledo, Stiles torched the Blue Devils for 41 points in an 81-71 upset by the No. 5 seed, opening up the bracket and paving the way for the Lady Bears' eventual trip to the Final Four in St. Louis after beating Washington two days later. Her maroon jersey -- the Lady Bears wore the home whites of the higher seed just twice in nine NCAA Tournament games during her career -- rolled at the shoulders in her trademark style, Stiles hit 15 of 22 shots against Duke, scoring 25 points in the second half as Missouri State erased a six-point halftime deficit.

The game against Duke wasn't the first time Stiles had stepped up against elite competition -- she scored 32 points in a second-round win against No. 4 seed Rutgers and 42 points against Marie Ferdinand's LSU team in the regular season. But the prime-time showdown against one of the game's premier programs finally provided the word-of-mouth folk hero from tiny Claflin, Kan., a nationally televised postseason spotlight.

Jackie Stiles
Jackie Stiles averaged 30.3 points per game as a senior at Missouri State.

Hardly an imposing physical presence when matched against Duke players like Alana Beard or Rometra Craig, Stiles still imposed her will on the offensive end throughout the game. Taking just three 3-pointers, she time and again drove to the elbow or the baseline, pulling up to drain the patented midrange jumper that many assumed she wouldn't be able to get off against bigger, faster opponents than she regularly faced in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Having posted a 25-5 record in the regular season, including a 16-2 conference record and nonconference wins against LSU and Oklahoma, the Lady Bears were not a one-woman show. Leading the supporting cast, unsung sidekick Tara Mitchem averaged 13.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals, and center Carly Deer averaged 7.7 boards and 2.5 steals. Against Duke, Mitchem contributed 17 points and four rebounds, while Deer pulled down 11 rebounds to help Missouri State outrebound the Blue Devils 33-29 for the game.

But as solid as the role players were all season around Stiles, her effort against Duke served to legitimize the legend that grew out of her rural roots and 1,000-shots-a-day practice regimen.

By toppling a giant in a postseason landscape usually unkind to Lilliputian challengers, Stiles seemed to embody the spirit of every small school and undersized talent while simultaneously proving she was almost without equal at the game's highest level.

Even though Missouri State eventually lost to Purdue in the Final Four, that one night in Spokane proved that sometimes legends live up to the hype.

Click here to see when the next memorable moment will air in our countdown.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

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