On Saturday at the Big Ten Women’s Basketball tournament in Indianapolis, Purdue pulled the colossal upset of the 9th ranked and 1 seeded Ohio State Buckeyes, 71-60. This was hands down the biggest win of the season, and came at a perfect time, when the NCAA is sorting through which teams will get at large berths to the Big Dance.
Just about nobody expected this win except the Purdue players and coaches. Their thinking went something like this. We are on top of our game with a 6 game winning streak. All of our players but Murphy and Horrocks are healthy now. We lost by only 5 points to Ohio State in the regular season match-up, when Stephanie Mavunga pulled out the game in the last few minutes for the Buckeyes. She is on the bench now with an injury, and we are going to take our game to the next level both offensively and defensively. The coaches developed the game plan, and the players executed it to the amazement of all.
At first glance at the box score, Purdue got 14 shots blocked and committed 20 turnovers. However, a closer examination will tell the tale. Purdue shot 73% from downtown and 91% from the foul line, while outshooting the Buckeyes from the floor by a few percentage points. Most importantly, the Purdue defense created a nightmare for Big Ten player of the year Kelsey Mitchell, who ended up the game shooting 3 for 22 for only 9 points. About no one even thought that was possible. Ohio State was held to a season-low 60 points.
While all accolades to the Purdue defense were well earned for this performance, I was at least equally impressed with the Boiler offense. Despite being pressed for most of the game, Purdue was able to consistently beat the press and push the tempo. Ashley Morrissette and Dominique Oden played with ice in their veins the entire game, finishing a combined 7 for 9 from 3 point land, and scoring 24 and 20 points respectively. Bridget Perry was on a mission with 11 points and a team leading 8 rebounds. Lamina Cooper played excellent defense and chipped in with 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. Her game has really matured in the past month especially. You cannot over-emphasize the importance of the team leadership on display from Ashley Morrissette. While she has had many other great games, even scoring more points, it could be argued that this was her best game ever in a Boiler uniform. She was masterful in directing the offense and put a lot of pressure on Mitchell and others on defense. Of course it was a team effort. It was so fun to watch Purdue turn the table on the Buckeyes and play with such intensity on both sides of the ball. The Buckeyes were shell-shocked, and it was pure joy to watch this game. I get sick of the ongoing love-fest BTN has for the Buckeye women’s team, so it was great to get a break from that.
Combined with the defeat of IU the previous day, this game propelled Purdue into the NCAA tournament, erstwhile knocking IU out of the tournament. A double bonus! The committee cannot deny that Purdue now belongs in the NCAA tournament after a 7 game winning streak culminating in a resounding beat down of the previously mighty Buckeyes. Charlie Creme, bracketologist for ESPN, said as much last night as far as Purdue being all in to the NCAA tournament, at halftime of the Maryland game. He emphasized that with such a strong performance in the BTT, Purdue is in, and not just a last 4 in. How many of us would have thought that possible for much of this season. We must remember that Purdue has fought through many injury issues this season, yet finished tied for 4th in the regular conference season at 10-6, won 7 straight down the stretch, and made it to the final of the BTT.
On to the Maryland game. This summary is a bit shorter. Commentator Andy Landers said it best in the post game analysis, Maryland has Brionna Jones and Purdue does not. She was the difference in the final game. I was concerned before the game that Purdue simply has no one to match up with Jones, and that she is for all intents and purposes un-guardable. I personally think she should have been named the Big Ten player of the year, and she has a chance at winning the Wooden Award as the best player in women’s college basketball this season. Other than Kelsey Plum, Jones would get my vote for sure.
Jones finished the championship game with 27 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks, and 3 steals. She was named the Tournament most valuable player, and that voting was probably unanimous. Purdue was able to limit some of Maryland’s other players, in particular Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who scored only 7 points. Purdue played a gutsy game, but as the second half wore on, Purdue was wearing out, playing in their 4th game in 4 days. To make matters worse, Morrissette tweaked her ankle which no doubt hurt more than she let on, and led to some shots coming up short due to difficulty getting lift on her shots. Let’s cross our fingers and hope she can rehab that ankle before the NCAA tournament.
Morrissette led the scoring once again in the championship game with 18 points, also adding 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals. She also one more time did a masterful job of running the team offense. Andreona Keys fought for some key buckets and finished with 15 points and 6 rebounds. Bridget Perry had a bit of a struggle, in part due to having to try and deal with Brionna Jones, but still contributed 7 points and 6 rebounds. Dominique Oden hit a couple of great three pointers in the losing effort.
Purdue used to own this tournament, having won it 9 times and now having played in 14 finals. However, it would seem that since joining the conference, it is Maryland’s tournament to lose. Maryland is a fine team with an excellent coach, who has had a ton of success including a national championship. They are setting the standard for the conference, and that gives Purdue a measuring stick as to what it will take to win the conference again. Maybe our team fell 10 points short of that, but Purdue made quite an impact in this year’s BTT as well as in the conference this season as a whole. Now let us go on to win in the Big Dance!
One final note: Morrissette and Oden were both voted to the All-Tournament team, an honor much deserved.