My sophomore year at Purdue is when I really started enjoying the college experience. The previous year's jitters of being a freshman were over. We were the defending national champions in (women's) basketball. I was starting to break out of my high school shell and realize that I didn't need to go back to Kokomo every weekend. We also had a pretty good basketball team that made a nice run in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately, that was also the year that Wisconsin was our arch nemesis. We ended up facing the Badgers four times. Each team won on its home floor, while Wisconsin won in the Big Ten Tournament. Both teams were placed in that year's West Region with Purdue as a 6 seed and Wisconsin an 8. Wisconsin shocked top seeded Arizona in round two and 4th seeded LSU in the Sweet 16. Purdue upset third seeded Oklahoma in round 2 and took out Gonzaga (who had beaten #2 St. John's) to set up a fourth meeting.
I remember going to sports fan's war the night of that game. The Final Four was an hour away in Indianapolis, and we were playing a team we had already beaten once. It was probably Gene Keady's last big chance to get to a Final Four too, and an unexpected one at that. Wisconsin won 64-60, denying us a trip to Indy and a possible National championship. I say possible because even though we were a 6 seed, we were the only team in the country to play all four of that year's Final Four teams (Michigan State, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Florida) thanks to a surprise run to the Maui Invitational final game. We had soundly beaten Florida and split with National champion MSU too, meaning the only one of the four we didn't beat was North Carolina, who edged us in Maui.
When I think of the 2000 season it is a major "what might have been" season for me because of that potential Final Four. I do not want this season to end that way. If we fall short of Houston I know it will be because of the Robbie factor, but with a victory tonight over the Badgers it will give us a season split. It will also likely set up a rematch in Indianapolis as the #2 and #3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament semis. If they beat us there and end up in our same NCAA bracket I am going to have ‘Nam-like flashbacks.
2009-10 record: 20-13, 10-8 Big Ten (Lost to Cornell 87-69 in second round of NCAA Tournament)
2010-11 record: 19-5, 9-3 Big Ten
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 103-64
Last Purdue win: 1/28/10 at Purdue 60-57
Last Wisconsin win: 2/1/11 at Wisconsin 66-59
Time & TV: 6:30pm Big Ten Network
Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer are obviously the story for Wisconsin. Like E`twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, they are the main players that make them go. Leuer is more of a perimeter threat than JJ, while Taylor has emerged as a scorer and a distributor when E`Twaun tends to pick one or the other. The first game was about what you would expect. For a half it was a low scoring, defensive affair. The second half saw things open up and Purdue dominated for a stretch before Wisconsin closed it. The big two on each side got at least 15 points apiece, leaving the game in the hands of the role players.
That is where Ryan Evans came up big. He only had 10 points, but he hit the de facto game-winner and had a breakaway dunk to seal it at the end. He had a game similar to D.J. Byrd. Each scored in double figures unexpectedly and hit some big shots. Byrd's runner with 1:10 left gave us a 59-58 lead, but we couldn't get a stop. Josh Gasser also hit some big shots with 11 points for them, and we had no one to match his effort.
The one player I am terrified of tonight is Keaton Nankivil. Actually, I am not sure if terrified is a strong enough word. If Harry Caray were still alive, Nankivil would get the infamous, "I am going to drive this guy to the airport to make sure he leaves town" moniker. He has never averaged double figures in his career, but he LOVES shooting from long-range at Mackey Arena. In 2007-08 he didn't play as a freshman (thank God). The next year he only scored four points and was 0 for 1 from long range. Last season, however, he went apeshit. He was 7 of 8 from 3-point land and had 25 points. This was easily a career high and the only 20 point game of his career, plus it was after we held him to just two points in Madison. His last three came with 43 seconds left and it gave Wisconsin a 57-56 lead before E`Twaun saved the day.
Honestly, we should expect another defensive slugfest tonight. That's the way these games go between us. I do like our chances because we're a different team at home and Wisconsin is a different team on the road. The Badgers have lost at Michigan State, Penn State, and Illinois already. They also struggled at Iowa and lost at UNLV. Their only convincing road victory was an absolute beatdown they handed out at Northwestern.
Of the next two games I think we need this one the most. I still believe the #2 team in the Big ten will get a protected 3 seed in Chicago, which is all I want. Wisconsin has the edge on us in that department, but we take away their tiebreaker with a victory plus earn a one game lead on them in the standings. A loss would be like a two game loss because we would trail them by a game and they would have the tiebreaker from the sweep. This would also be our best win today, improving our resume that much more.
To have success tonight I think we have to dare someone other than Leuer and Taylor to beat us. They are too good to not get theirs. If we stop one of them, then we win easily, but I don't see that happening. We have to make sure Nankivil doesn't go apeshit again, plus get out on Gasser and Evans. In the last game we didn't get much from the supporting cast other than Byrd. Lewis Jackson had four assists and one point. Since then he has games of 13 and a 10-5 at Illinois. The more LewJack can give us from a scoring standpoint the better.
I also really like what I saw from Terone Johnson and Kelsey Barlow at Illinois. I think the light might be coming on for TJ, while Barlow is giving us a lot more "good Barlow" than "bad Barlow" of late. Ryne Smith is also due for a big game.
I don't think we need to change a whole lot from the first game with them. Something was obviously working if we had a lead within the last minute. As long as we get off to a better start and continue our rebounding effort from Sunday we will be fine.