Nebraska is next to last in the B1G standings, so a Purdue victory was expected in Mackey Thursday night. However, perhaps no one could have predicted just how dominating Purdue would be. The defense was outstanding, holding the Huskers to only 45 points, and leading to many fast break opportunities. So offense often starts with defense. That being said, the offense wasn’t just clicking in transition but overall it was the best offensive performance of the season.
Ashley Morrissette continued her awesome streak another game, finishing with 21 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 6 steals. She is turning in a great senior season for this team, and in fact is the key player on the team. As long as she can remain in games, you get the feeling that Purdue is not out of the game. The team shared the ball well, with crisp ball movement, and executed in the half court as well or better than any time this season. Ae’Rianna Harris had a break out game on offense with 19 points, mostly in the paint. She just seemed to always be at the right place at the right time. Dominique Oden got the Boilers off to a fast start with 7 quick points, and finished with a solid stat line with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and a steal. Bridget Perry was the fourth player in double figures with 15 points, adding in 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. All this was done without the services of glue player Andreona Keys, who sat out the game due to a bad collision in the previous game at Michigan State. Lamina Cooper did a fine job of filling in the role of utility player, adding 7 points and 4 assists.
True enough, Nebraska is only a shadow of their former selves. Their only star player is Jessica Shephard, who did manage to more or less get hers with 21 points and 8 rebounds. However, she had very little help, allowing the Boilers to key on her for the entire game. Even considering the level of competition, it was nice to see the Purdue offense work like a finely tuned machine and for the defense to operate in shut down mode. One play in particular stood out, when Morrissette grabbed the ball and heaved it down court to Oden who deflected a relay pass perfectly leading Harris to an open layup.
A few conclusions can be drawn from this game. First and foremost, the team is unselfish in the extreme and the players are coming together as a cohesive unit where players seem to know instinctively where other players are headed on the court. (This could be confirmed by the stat of 24 assists leading to 35 field goals, with only 10 turnovers.) Great progress has been made in half court offense, while transition offense has been there all season. Second, the three freshmen Oden, Cooper, and Harris, are no longer playing like freshmen and their progress is outstanding. Third, the trademark defensive intensity is alive and well. Fourth, the team showed consistent effort throughout the game despite the score. That is the kind of effort needed game in and game out.
So how does this bode for the rest of the season? The team gets a weekend off before taking on the best Big Ten team in Maryland in Mackey next Thursday. As well as the Boilers have played the past two games, it is another matter to actually beat the mighty Terrapins. Briona Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are WNBA quality players and two match-up nightmares. Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland’s conference record is 45-2. Purdue will just have to play their best and see where the chips fall. After that, the schedule is pretty favorable. The three toughest opponents to close out the second half of the conference season will all be coming to Mackey: Michigan, Iowa, and Northwestern. The remaining away games are all against lower tier teams in the conference. Of course road games can always be a challenge even against lower tier teams. However, it is safe to predict that with a 5-3 record halfway through, that Purdue should finish in the top half of the conference by Big Ten Tournament time. This should give us a decent seed in the BTT, and it seems like Purdue always rises to the occasion in that tournament. It is still too early to predict a place in the NCAA tournament, but if the Nebraska game was any indication, at least this team still has a fighting chance.