Cardinal Does What Cardinals Couldn't, Stops WBB in OT
Ah, if only I'd known. The women's basketball team spent the week in sunny Fort Myers after a quick stop in Jacksonville to dispatch the Ospreys, preparing to trudge through something called the Gulf Coast Showcase, yet another in the stream of meaningless non-conference "tournaments" that serve as excuses to play teams you don't care much to face and fill channels you never knew existed. (For WBB and smaller men's conferences, they're actually good deals, because they give teams three games at one location, cutting down on travel costs. For P5 men's teams, I stand by my definition.) This one is played in a minor-league hockey arena ... no, really. (I may actually have seen an Everblades game there; not entirely sure about that. Let's say that I have.) I could have made the trip to the Gulf side, hung out with my uncle (he's lived down there since the '70s), and gone to see what turned out to be some pretty darn good basketball by Sharon Versyp's team. Friday's opponent was LSU, a team coming off a somewhat-better season than Purdue (which isn't saying much) but still not looking too impressive this year. The Tigers had played a significantly tougher schedule than the Good Gals so far, with losses at Wake Forest and Tulane, plus a win over UALR and a couple of unimpressive wins at home ... and Purdue played to form against them, leading nearly the whole game as they recorded an easy 69-52 win.
Problems from their home openers seemed part of the distant past, as Purdue rained in threes (3-5 by Ashley Morrissette, 3-7 by April Wilson), played solid D (LSU shot 39.7% from the field) and didn't hand the Tigers baskets (0 fast break points allowed). Wilson was one of three Boilers in double figures, posting a career-high 23, as Morrissette added 15 and Bridget Perry recorded 10 with 7 boards. Turnovers were still an issue - 10 this time - but the offense was effective enough that they didn't seem to be much of a problem.
That lined up an oddly-ranked Louisville team for Saturday's game. While I was out watching the home teams, the women's team was playing what the polls would have you believe was by far their toughest opponent to date. To be fair, Louisville did play California at home and Western Kentucky on the road, so they did at least have a couple of quality games prior to this one, but their #22 ranking was based more on 2015's 27-7 record than on anything they'd shown this season ... not that you could tell from the first half, as the Cardinals forced eight first-quarter turnovers and drew seven Purdue fouls in the second quarter. Thankfully, the lid on the basket in Mackey Arena made the trip south, as Louisville had just 28 points to show for their hard work, hitting just 9 of 29 from the field.
New and Improved Purdue 2016 stormed back in the second half, pouring in 42 points in the remaining periods to edge Louisville 62-60 despite 18 turnovers. Morissette and Perry led the way with 17 and 14, and Andreona Keys added 7 points and 10 boards to lead all players in rebounds. Louisville shot just .333 from the field and hit only 5 of 19 from long range ... as much as I've been disappointed with the offense, the defense has certainly been doing a solid job so far. That defensive work earned the Boilers a spot against Stanford in the final, while Louisville ended up facing Dayton, a team Purdue will face themselves Sunday. (The Flyers won 79-66.)
With the Lions playing on Thanksgiving (and taking care of business for a change), that meant this was my annual Who-Cares-NFL Sunday, where I was free to watch or follow whatever, but I almost forgot that the championship game would be "televised". About halfway through the third quarter, I hit the WBB home page and found the webcast - at least it was a Purdue announcer, I'd hate to have sat through that with Stanford's people.
In front of an announced crowd of 1,417 (for context, that's a bit more than half of Holloway's capacity) that was probably a tenth that size - the Everblades draw better than this - the Boilers played their best game of the season, forcing the 13th-ranked tree-color-thing to overtime before falling, 71-65. Although Purdue didn't shoot nearly as well in this game as they had in the previous two (just .310), it was more a tribute to Stanford's defense than anything else ... and it was still nearly good enough. By the time I turned on the webcast, Purdue had fought back from an early deficit and created a back-and-forth third quarter, featuring 7 lead changes and 2 ties.
The fourth quarter was worth the wait, as the teams once again traded leads. A Briana Roberson three - she was 5-6 from outside, leading everyone with 26 points - gave Stanford a one-point lead, and after a Morrissette three-point attempt went in, around, and out, a Big 14-caliber "foul" on Wilson gave Lili Thompson three free throws, and it was suddenly 57-53 Cardinal ... but the Boilers would score the next six points, and all Stanford had left were two Roberson free throws. After a Purdue TO, Keys and Morrissette missed chances to put it away in regulation, and the teams went to ooooveeeeertiiime.
The first half of OT was basically like regulation, as Stanford twice edged out to two-point leads only to see Purdue reel them back in. Unfortunately, the second half of OT was poop, with the Cardinal finishing on an 8-3 run (including another "foul" on a three) to put the game away. Wilson and Morrissette were cold (7-19 and 5-13 respectively), and Stanford spent too much time on the foul line (25-26, compared to Purdue's 8-12).
Even without the questionable foul calls, it was clear the better team won, but it was also apparent that this Purdue team would not be like last year's team. After finishing 2014-15 nearly out of Massey's top 100, the Boilers sit at 41st, waiting for #77 Boston College and #10 Dayton to visit Mackey Arena this week. After that, it's more Cardinals - first Incarnate Word and then Ball State - and then Maine (who lost to Dayton 58-37 and beat LSU 52-41 in Estero) before the Good Gals make the trip to Ann Arbor to open Big 14 play.
Feature image from Purdue Sports