Hey all, how's it going? You might remember me. I used to cover Purdue women's basketball for Hammer & Rails before I was overcome with a bad case of engineering. Sigh....you do one electrical engineering assignment and you miss half a basketball season.
I'm too far behind to game wrap individual games at this point without doing a full Grantland and dropping a several-thousand-word post. Instead, I'm just going to touch on a few key areas and take a look at the future.
The Bare Bones
First, lets look at the basics: Purdue sits at 16-3, including a win over defending national champion Texas A&M. They are also 6-0 in the Big Ten, which is good for a one game lead on the field. They've bounced around the polls, which are kind of a joke in the women's game, and currently sit at lucky number 13 in one poll and 18 in the other. down the stretch, they're looking at an excellent shot at a Big Ten title and a top 4 seed in the tournament.
Take a jump with me and we'll take a look at the highs, lows, losses, and future for this team.
Any discussion of this season has to start with the Texas A&M win. You just don't get the chance to knock off the defending champs very often. Even more impressive is the fact that this game was sandwiched between a visit to #6 Duke and a home date with #2 Notre Dame. Even though the team trailed for the first three quarters of the game, they were in it from the tip. After a Coach Versyp collected her first technical at Purdue, the officiating improved and the team just locked in and rolled, turning a 37-29 deficit into a 60-51 final. The way this team clicked down the stretch was the first sign that these girls are going places.
You Can't Lose A Shutout
Once. That's how many times this team has given up 70 points, and that was on the second game of an absurd back-to-back (WTF, Athletic Dept?). They average just 52.6 points given up, 21.3 turnovers forced, a 33.4% opponents' shooting, and a half-dozen blocks per game. It's almost exclusively pressure man-to-man, and it just grinds opponents down. This is a team any Purdue basketball fan should be proud of.
A Word on the Losses
Put it this way: two of the losses were to #2 and #5. Let's call those forgivable, eh? Especially since we hung with Duke on their home floor. By the time the ND game rolled around, they were just out of gas. The third loss? Well, that one was to....Central Michigan. Ugh, right? Well, yes, but don't read too much into it. It was a road game literally the day after the Notre Dame game. This loss should really go on Burke's record and not Versyp's, as there's no way you can expect a team to play back-to-back like that in college.
Numbers Never* Lie
Up till now I intentionally haven't really talked about any individual players. It fits with the ethos of this team, as there really isn't a surpassing superstar. Instead, every player who sees the floor has a well-defined role that they simply perform in. Rayburn continues to be the leading scorer (15 ppg) and emotional leader. She's still got a knack for drawing charges, too, something not often seen in a leading scorer. Sam Ostarello still rebounds everything that isn't nailed down (8.0 rpg) while chipping in a handful of points nightly. Courtney Moses and KK Houser distribute (2.4 and 3.8 apg) and provide secondary scoring (9.5 and 9.2 ppg). KK is also quite the thief at 2.6 spg. Unfortunately, she also has some TO issues, which is my largest concern with this team going forward. And lastly, 5th-year senior Antionette Howard has absolutely OWNED the 6th-man role. She hasn't started a game, but averages 7.4 ppg and 3.9 rpg while providing energy and creating mismatches off the bench.
I'll just leave this here.
It speaks for itself.
The Stretch Run
So what now? Well, now the goal is simple: win the Big Ten Title. We have a one-game lead over Ohio State, who I am probably most concerned about if I had to pick a team. Everyone else behind them has 2 losses at least, including Nebraska and Penn State, who are probably the only two serious threats at this point. The schedule is manageable, with only 3 ranked teams left (@OSU, PSU, Neb). We get the benefit of facing those three ranked teams only once this year. Other than those 3, the away games against the Michigan schools could be tricky, as could a trip to OMHR. If we hold serve at home, though, we should get through conference play with at most 2-3 losses. Unless OSU is perfect from here, that will get us a title. It starts tomorrow against MSU, 8 o'clock in Mackey. MSU is a upper-half team in the Big Ten, and they'll be a good pointer as to where this team is when it comes to being a title contender.
This team is gelling at the right time. They've won some tough games, some close games, and have avoided the WTF loss. They're playing well as a unit and are certainly looking like the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I love that they've won close, too. Finding a way to win, even on the road like they did against Illinois, is a huge key to a title run. It really doesn't matter that Illinois was an inferior team; finding a way to get the win is huge. In short, this is just a fun team to watch, and one that exemplifies Purdue basketball. BTFU