Purdue's women's basketball served notice to the rest of the Big Ten conference that this year's team is the real deal. It was one thing to win at Michigan and against Illinois at home, as those teams look so far to be mid to lower tier teams in the conference. It is another thing to beat #16 Northwestern on their court. As the third highest ranked Big Ten team, Northwestern had a very good season going into yesterday's match-up with the Boilers. With Purdue dominating on both ends of the floor, the wheels came off for the Wildcats for much of this game. Purdue dominated every statistical category but blocked shots, but the most telling was the 21 turnovers committed by the Wildcats, of which a whopping 15 were steals. Ashley Deary, their standout point guard, committed 10 of their turnovers. Not only did Purdue get a lot of points off of turnovers, but a lot of scoring came from layups and other shots down low.
A quick look at the Northwestern roster would make one believe that they have a lot of height on their team. However, most of those are bench players apparently not ready for prime time. Nia Coffey is relied on for a lot of post presence at 6'1". While she is one of the best players in the B1G, she can't do it all, especially on the defensive side of the ball. She got some help from Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who fouled out in the 4th quarter, but Coffey had to sit for significant minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Once Coffey sat, Purdue cleaned up down low making hay deep in the post. This happened without the services of Torrie Thornton, who sat with back issues. Horrocks and Keisler didn't score much, and Horrocks grabbed 6 rebounds, but their job for this game was to clog up the post on defense. This forced Northwestern to become, at least for the first 3 quarters, a jump shooting team. They were able to connect on some mid range jumpers in that area inside the foul line, but Purdue's 2-3 zone really made it difficult for Northwestern to run their offense. With so many turnovers, and Coffey in foul trouble, Purdue gradually built up a lead, outscoring the Wildcats in all 4 quarters. With a 6 point possession followed by a 3 point possession in the 4th quarter, it looked like Northwestern was going to make a run and possibly even pull off a monumental late comeback. However, Purdue continued to pound the ball inside, make fast break as well as half court layups, and did a great job of closing the deal. Purdue also sank a lot of midrange jumpers and a few key 3-pointers as well.
Bridget Perry got into a zone, running up the stats with 21 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 steal. After a subpar performance against Illinois, Perry and Keys both made up for it in a big way in this game. Keys finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 block and 3 steals. The Wildcats simply had no answer to their stellar play. In addition, Wilson and Morrissette finished in double figures as well with 14 points a piece. They also did an admirable job of beating the 2nd half press that Northwestern put on. McBryde had by far her most productive game so far, also scoring in double figures with 13 points while adding 4 rebounds and 2 steals. She also contributed to making life difficult for Northwestern to get anything going deep in the post. And she made an awesome no look reverse layup.
To get a signature win like this one, the team and coaches need a game plan, and to be able to execute it. Both worked out great, as Purdue's defense was able to really frustrate the offense of the Wildcats. Coffey and Lyon got their points, 22 and 24 respectively, but the rest of the team really didn't contribute much. In addition to an effective 2-3 zone, Purdue mixed things up in the second half with some effective man-to-man defense. With Hamby out with an injury, the only guard to come off the bench was Tiara Murphy. It was good to see her back in action and she did a good job spelling Wilson at the point guard position and even drained a nice trey. Coach Versyp went away from the normal guard heavy lineup for significant segments of the game and played a conventional 2 guard, 2 forward, and 1 center scheme. This post heavy lineup really gave Northwestern fits and took them off guard.
With the recent transfer out of Justine Hall, and the injuries to Hamby and Thornton, it looked going into the game like a lack of depth might be a problem. But when things are clicking so well, the 8 players who got into the game all did their jobs and were able to run up the score on a solid team in their gym.
It is still early in conference play, but Purdue is sitting pretty at the top of the league. There will be losses, and even tougher match-ups than this game. However, this win can do nothing but boost the confidence of our team and show that we have a team to be reckoned with. With some more signature conference wins like this one, Purdue will have a good chance of making it back to the NCAA tournament once again, where we belong.
Apparently Hamby will be sidelined for a month, but hopefully Thornton will be able to play again fairly soon. The freshman Murphy will look to get more minutes as a top reserve guard. Both highly ranked freshmen Murphy and McBryde are getting up to speed at the college level, and it seems like neither one of them get rattled and both play with a lot of poise and confidence.
Kudos to the coaching staff. First, congratulations to Coach Versyp to tie Lynn Dunn with the most victories with 206. Secondly, it is apparent from watching this season, that our coaching staff has done an outstanding job of scouting opponents and exploiting their weaknesses. Defensively the game plans have been very successful. Really good in-game adjustments are being made as well. This won't be the last conference opponent to have their offense frustrated by the Purdue defense. It just seems like the defense is communicating well, switching well, and mixing it up between mostly a 2-3 zone or man-to-man scheme. For the most part the players are executing any and all defensive schemes at a high level, which should bode well for the rest of the season.