I'm not used to doing the postgame reviews, and I still think in terms of halves, not quarters, but I'll give it my best shot as I was able to get off of work and watch the conference opener at Michigan.
On paper this looked like it was going to be a close game, with the big matchup being the prolific Michigan offense against the tenacious Purdue defense. It turned out to be just that, with many ties and lead changes in the game. The difference turned out to be a three point dagger drained by Ashley Morrissette wiith 7 seconds to go. This is the third game this season in which Morrissette has made either the go ahead basket or the game winning shot. She and April Wilson have both proven that they can be fearless in the final minute of games. This could become somewhat of a norm as with some decent parity in the B1G women's basketball conference, probably a lot of games will be decided in the final minute.
Lately, with high scoring teams like UConn and Notre Dame making it to successive final fours, fans are beginning to see in the women's college basketball game that offense more often than not trumps defense. However, Purdue is bucking that trend with some incredibly disruptive defensive play through 12 games. The 10-2 Boilermakers have shown game in and game out that they can make even the best of players uncomfortable with energetic and intense pressure defense. In this game, going up against so many outside shooting threats as well as an imposing post player, Coach Versyp needed to come up with a defensive game plan for the Wolverines. She did just that, putting in a tight man-to-man defense in which players were doing whatever they could to switch off of their man to double team the dual inside-outside threat of Thome and Flaherty. Almost every time the 6'5" Thome got the ball down low, another player for Purdue would double up and make life difficult for her. The same for when Flaherty got the ball out on the perimeter. It was a risky strategy as Michigan also has some other sharpshooters to worry about. However, the strategy worked for the most part as Purdue limited the Wolverines to 19 points below their season average.
Thome and Flaherty still led their team in scoring, with some help from Ristovsky and scrappy freshman Brozoski, but Flaherty never really got into a rhythm, and Thome had a harassed look on her face for most of the game. The four of them accounted for most of Michigan's scoring, but Purdue came up with some great offense of their own.
In the first half, threes were falling as Purdue hit 6 of 10 from downtown. I don't think Michigan saw that coming, especially since some of those threes came from Perry and Keys, not normally thought of as three point threats. However Purdue throughout the game was also able to get the ball inside either on fast breaks or by using good ball movement. The big 4 of Perry, Keys, Morrissette, and Wilson, all did their part in the scoring department, as well as filling up other stat lines, in particular the 11 assists from Wilson. Bree Horrocks provided some offense as well, finishing the game with 8 points and 2 rebounds in a reserve role. She also had her hands full in blanketing Hallie Thome on the defensive side. Horrocks, Keisler, and Thornton all took their turns on the big girl, along with occasional double teams from others, and it kept Thome from dominating as she probably expected to. Horrocks also made a couple of key blocks which, along with 4 other blocks from the Boilers, kept the Wolverines from ever really getting any consistent offensive rhythm going in the post. We need more solid play like that out of the 6'5" Horrocks and 6'6" Keisler, if Purdue is going to make it back to the NCAA tournament this year. While Thornton is a senior and very athletic, it is going to continue to be tough for her at an even 6 foot to guard these tall centers in the Big Ten. Purdue led 35-30 at the half.
In the second half, Michigan quickly got the score tied, and it was a back and forth game until the final buzzer. It was really a well played game considering that neither team is ranked and it was the conference season opener for both teams. It is going to really be a wild ride in the B1G this year with a lot of "upsets." Purdue's shooting cooled down considerably in the second half, but we kept the defensive pressure on. Leading scorer Flaherty in particular was held to just 6 for 19 shooting, showing her frustration while being held below her scoring average. Like Thome, Flaherty more often than not found the going tough as the trapping man-to-man defense of Purdue made life difficult for her. I think it really got into her head, causing her to miss some wide open 3-point attempts that could have won the game for Michigan. The last couple of minutes were very intense, and a bit strange. Far be it for me to admit it, but Purdue really caught a break when Thome got called for her 5th foul, making her unavailable in the final minute. I'm so used to seeing Purdue get some shaft calls from the refs, but I just didn't see that as a foul. Another foul also got called on Michigan near the end that was questionable. Well, hey, we have to take our lumps sometimes, so maybe we were due a couple of breaks. Not that the refs just handed Purdue the win. Our Boilers really played an intense and under control game. Multiple times in the second half and down the stretch, Purdue made key steals and other defensive stops when they needed to. Down 6 and looking like we were headed for defeat, Perry drained 6 straight points, 4 at the foul line, to tie the game up. This set up the tre drained by Morrissette with 7 seconds remaining. Brozoski got fouled, supposedly, in the last second of the game on a desperation three point attempt to put the game into overtime. However, while playing some good basketball as a scrappy, very short freshman, Brozoski only made one of three free throws with 0.3 seconds left in regulation, leaving Purdue the victors in a great 2 point road win.
Some of the key stats for the game: Purdue held Michigan to well below their averages in all categories of shooting, at under 40% from overall field goal shooting and 3-point range, but also Michigan only hit 12 for 21 from the free throw line. Probably the biggest difference was in assists and turnovers, with Purdue assisting on 21 of 25 field goals, while limiting their own turnovers to 11. Michigan only assisted on 13 shots while committing 14 turnovers. Purdue also put in a decent shooting percentage even after cooling down in the second half. The top 4 scorers for Purdue, Wilson, Morrissette, Keys, and Perry, hit a combined 19 of 49 shots overall, and went 8 for 17 from downtown. Michigan played zone daring Purdue to shoot long jumpers, and enough of them went in to secure the win. Horrocks provided the only bench scoring with 8. McBryde and Keisler, while making some contributions, showed they are still getting used to the speed and physicality of D1 play, but they should make some gradual improvement as the season progresses. Murphy once again did not play, apparently still recovering from a lower leg stress injury. She was listed as questionable, so the coaches will probably take their time working in her playing time. I haven't heard anything that would indicate that she is eligible or would redshirt the rest of the season.
Overall, this was a kind of statement game for our team. We showed that the 9-2 pre-conference record was no fluke and that this is nothing like last year's team. "Defense lives here" has got to be the overall motto so far, but the offense really looked pretty sharp against a disciplined 2-3 zone played by Michigan for most of the game. Keeping turnovers low is huge, and it just seemed that Wilson and Morrissette are not only filling up the stat sheets, but are showing their command of the overall offense. Sloppy play and high turnovers have plagued the Boilers for some years now, but it seems like this team is playing with better ball control. As long as the shots are falling, the rest of the B1G season could be decent. Granted there is stiff competition and some really tough away games yet to be played, but a win on the road certainly gets the team off on the right foot in conference play.