The Lady Boilers came out and played like their hair was on fire early in this game. With team speed on both offense and defense along with pinpoint shooting, Purdue ended the first quarter with an 18-13 lead. It looked like it would turn out to be a solid home win. Then the wheels began to fall off. In the second quarter, Purdue was doubled up 22-11 as the Boilers couldn't find the nets going 3-13 while Michigan drained 3 of 4 from downtown and shot a blistering 9-13 for the quarter. Purdue just could not get shots to fall. The defense began to break down as Michigan found some open 3's and drained them. This led to a 35-29 halftime deficit, not an insurmountable score with an entire half yet to be played.
The third quarter was more of the same as Michigan advanced their lead with Purdue only scoring 12 points in the quarter. Uncharacteristic of our team, even free throws would not fall. By the end of the game, Purdue had missed 9 free throws and lost by 7 points. Michigan dialed up a full court press and harassed Purdue into some silly turnovers and poor shot selection in addition to a couple of shot clock violations. Even good plays ended with the ball hitting the rim and bouncing out, or air-balls. While Michigan also turned the ball over an equal of 17 times during the entire game, it just seemed like the Purdue turnovers caused worse reversals of fortune.
In the fourth quarter, Ashley Morrissette came alive and led a Purdue comeback to bring the score within 3 points. However, Michigan scored just enough to quell the comeback and the Boilers dropped their fourth straight game. This game was not lost from lack of effort. It was lost by failure to execute, leaving jump shooters open too often, and just missing shots for no good reason. Also, I believe that the assist to turnover ratio was less than 1.0 for all of the last four losses in a row, this game included. Morrissette was the only Boiler to score in double figures, with 19 points along with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Unfortunately she didn't get enough support from Wilson, Perry, and Keys, who shot a combined 6 for 22 from the field. McBryde played a solid game with 8 points and 8 rebounds, and Thornton started out hot but didn't score in the second half. Hamby added 8 off the bench, but it wasn't enough.
This game was there for the taking, but you have to give Michigan credit. They sank their shots when they had to, played very stingy defense, and apparently had scouted vulnerabilities in Purdue's game fairly well. Murphy had to sit out with concussion symptoms, and her shooting could have helped. It was nice to see Hayden Hamby make her first return after missing 13 games to a bad ankle injury. She played well and drained two treys.
The two losses to Maryland were expected. However this loss along with the one at Wisconsin last week have put this team's chances of making the NCAA tournament in serious question. If something isn't turned around quickly, we are looking at a WNIT appearance. That would really be too bad, with this group of players. Especially for senior April Wilson, who has been excellent all season long. She did get her 200th steal. However, she was not played down the stretch which makes one wonder if she was injured or just what was the problem. It would seem that the clear team senior leader should be in the game down the stretch in a close winnable game.
Apparently there have been enough injuries and defections this season to cause this team to have to rely too much on our freshmen. While all three have grown their games this season, it would have been better to be able to work them in at a more gradual pace. Back when this team was sporting a 9-2 nonconference record and 5-0 conference record, the season looked bright. However we all should know by now that an 18 game conference schedule in the B1G can be brutal. Overall play from top to bottom is more competitive than in the past, due to such factors as some very good coaching hires and the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, two perennial powerhouse teams. It looks like the margin for error was a bit thin and that a healthy lineup would have led to more wins. On the other hand, some injuries are going to affect most teams during a season. Shooting slumps can be more easily comprehended, but lack of focus and execution on defense is quite perplexing at this point in the season.
Next up is at Iowa on Thursday. Purdue needs to finish conference play with 3 of 4 wins to finish with a better than .500 conference record. If things continue like as of late, that is unlikely. But don't give up on our Boilers just yet. This team has grit, and speed, and unselfishness, and may just get tired of losing and surprise their next 4 opponents. That being said it is getting to be a stretch to be that optimistic with what has transpired in the past month. If Murphy can get cleared to play and with Hamby back in action, that depth at the guard position should help tremendously. Come on, Boilers, let's finish the conference season with a bang and make some more noise in the B1G tournament. It can be done, and a big part of it must be confidence despite recent setbacks.