Nebraska Fouls Up WBB, Knocks Out Boilers 62-61
Purdue's women's team has two significant weaknesses: they do not have a center who is a scoring threat, and they do not have a consistent three-point shooter. Tonight, Nebraska took advantage of both weaknesses, running out to an early lead and never looking back as they held off the Boilers, 62-61, handing Purdue just their second home loss in eleven games.
Nebraska earned the win by beating the Purdue defense over and over again on back-door plays, three times in the first quarter alone, and by consistently feeding freshman Jessica Shepard, who came in leading the Huskers with 20.0 PPG in just 25.6 minutes. They also received more than a little help from the usual set of incompetent zebras. NU's game plan apparently included as much physical contact as they could get away with, and as it turned out, that was a lot. Dominique McBryde caught an elbow in the face during or after a Q1 layup, shortly after she entered the game, and ended up missing about 10 minutes in the first half while Purdue's trainers valiantly attempted to stop the bleeding. I can't say exactly what happened, because I missed it live and there were no replays, but it looked like McBryde came out right away, and then immediately after that, the ref at that end had to stop the game because there was blood on the ball.
Now, you might be thinking that if there was actually blood on the ball, perhaps it would be worth looking at why there was blood on the ball, given that there is a provision in the rules specifically to cover that situation. You, sir or madam, are now vastly overqualified to officiate NCAA basketball games. Instead, we sat for quite a bit while the ref brought the ball over to the maintenance folks to clean it up.
McBryde eventually returned, wearing number 44 because her other uniform was still had blood on it (but not because of a foul, mind you), and played 17 quality minutes. Bridget Perry was the other recipient of an elbow, catching one in the face on a rebound after a Nebraska shot. It took her a few seconds to gather herself and get up, and she was rubbing her face as she did, but again, the clown show made no effort to recognize this. (It was kind of odd that Purdue's training staff didn't seem to notice, either. It's possible the awareness of concussions hasn't yet extended to women's hoops, I guess.)
OK, enough of the blood. Onto the
If you saw just the Nebraska part of the box score, you'd think the Boilers ran away with this one. Shepard led the Huskers with 22, but it took her 22 shot equivalents to get them - she was just 7 of 16 from the field, and she led everyone with 9 turnovers. Nebraska had 27 as a team, had just 44 FG attempts, hit 23 of them (so they weren't on fire), and had only six free throws shot by someone other than Shepard.
If you saw the game, though, you'd know that wasn't the full story. With Shepard and 6'5" Allie Havers guarding the paint, only McBryde was able to score consistently inside, and with Ashley Morrissette posting maybe the worst line of her career (0-11 from the field, no FTs; she'd never had an 0-fer with more than 2 attempts as a Boiler), there wasn't any reason for Nebraska to expand their defense. April Wilson eventually began hitting some mid-range jumpers, but other than brief appearances from Perry (2-3) and Tiara Murphy (1-1) behind the arc, that was it.
The result was exactly what you'd expect: horrid basketball. Nebraska led 15-12 after one and 30-21 at halftime. If it weren't for 4 fast-break points, the Boilers wouldn't have cracked 20. Time and time again, Purdue would force a Nebraska turnover, come down, run something like their offense, and put up a brick or turn the ball over themselves - they had 14 TOs for the game, half of those in their 9-point second quarter.
With Morrissette struggling on both offense and defense (at least twice, she was the one who ended up chasing a Husker to the basket on a back-door cut), you'd expect Versyp to go to her bench and give the junior a break ... except there really isn't much of anyone left. The only guards who didn't start were Murphy and Abby Abel, and Versyp didn't seem interested in sending out a walk-on to face a senior backcourt. Murphy only got two first-half minutes, which was kind of understandable when it appeared this would be a game where Purdue would have time to work out their struggles, but as the second half wore on and it was clear Morrissette wasn't going to be able to fix her shot, Murphy stayed on the bench. Even in Q4, she only played 3 minutes, hitting a three after an early Bridget Perry steal and then not doing much of anything after that.
Wilson did enough to lift Purdue to a win on a normal day, though: 24 points on 18 equivalents, 5 steals, 5 assists, 4 boards, 40 minutes. When the rest of the team looked like they'd played Tuesday night instead of Sunday afternoon, Wilson was the one leaping to deflect a pass, speeding past a grasping Kyndal Clark to gather the ball, and outracing Clark and another Husker to the basket to lay it in. Time and time again, Wilson would pick off an errant pass and convert - she even scored on a follow after a Perry steal and missed layup - but Nebraska always managed to pull away when the Boilers closed in.
Perry had a solid game as well: 13 points, 6 boards, 3 blocks, 2 assists, 2 steals, and probably 2 fouls plus 2 excruciatingly bad calls. Refs gonna ref, I guess. McBryde also posted solid numbers - 12 points, 5 blocks, 2 assists, 2 boards in 17 minutes - but the real story was one that didn't show up in the box score, as the cliche goes. Torrie Thornton had one of the best games of her career. Even though she didn't score, she committed just one foul in 21 minutes (and, unlike in most games and many fouls in this one, it was a legitimate foul) and played a large part in hassling Shepard into a poor game.
Thornton played excellent defense on pretty much every possession, playing straight-up defense, blocking one of Shepard's shots herself, and forcing Shepard into positions where she wasn't very comfortable. McBryde (3) and Perry (1) combined for four additional blocks, each time when Shepard seemed to focus completely on Thornton and forget about weak-side help. With Hayden Hamby not quite halfway into her expected healing process, there were only two seniors dressed for the game, and they were invaluable in getting Purdue to a position where they had the ball with a chance to win on the final possession.
The Boilers came into Q4 down 12, but cut it to 2 with a 12-2 run in the first 2:50. Nebraska pushed the lead to 8, but then a 7-0 run got Purdue to 58-57 with 2:53 left. From that point, Purdue scored on two of their next three possessions, but Natalie Romeo and Shepard each sank a pair of free throws, so Nebraska had the ball with 0:40 left. An Allie Havers turnover sent coach Connie Yori into a screaming fit at the officials (they're apparently deaf as well as blind; at one point, we could actually her Yori yelling at the refs about the temerity they showed to call a foul on her players; one of the people behind me yelled back), but the Boilers kept the ball anyway, and advanced it to half-court with a 30-second timeout.
Naturally, they couldn't get off a shot - Nebraska knew it would be in Wilson's hands, sent a big to double her, and neither McBryde nor Morrissette could get a clean shot at the basket. 62-61 Nebraska, and the Boilers dropped into a tie with Michigan State for third, just one game ahead of the Huskers and Minnesota. (Ohio State plays Michigan tomorrow, so either Maryland will have company in first again, or it'll be a three-way tie for second and a three-way tie for fifth.)
At this point, the roster is what it is. Murphy is the only guard who might have regular ability to light it up from three (Andreona Keys is 3 for 26; she knows her limits), but she's not getting nearly enough opportunities to demonstrate that range if it's there. Morrissette is shooting almost exactly the same from outside and inside the arc, even before the Nebraska game, which is actually kind of a concern at this point - .369 from the field is bad enough, but .369 on 195 shots (second only to Wilson) is really not good. The thing is, though, Hamby's not shot much better (.388 total/.333 from three), so if you're looking for a consistent three-point shooter, you're not going to find one.
Same thing with the three-headed post rotation. Horrocks is the only one who's shooting well enough to earn more time, as her recent starts have shown, but even so, she still looks relatively inexperienced inside ... which makes sense, because she is. Kiesler's a year behind her, so while Nora may develop offensive skills, she doesn't have them yet. Thornton's never been asked to play that role, so it's unlikely Torrie's going to grow into it now. The only hope for frontcourt inside scoring now (well, Perry can score from inside, but she's not tall enough to do that regardless of matchup) is McBryde, and while she's delivered well over the last few games, she still has fewer than 100 attempts this season. If she can continue to deliver, Versyp's going to have to get her more minutes. Purdue was 65th in FG% coming into the game, which sounds OK until I list the Big 14 teams who were shooting better from the field: Maryland (.495, 3rd), Michigan (.493, 4th), Ohio State (.480, 7th), Nebraska (.460, 17th), Iowa (.443, 37th), Indiana (.438, 44th), Michigan State (.436, 48th), and Minnesota (.429, 60th). They don't have anyone who can reliably score when needed: Wilson plays the role well, but she's only shooting .435 overall, and if we could separate transition baskets from set-offense baskets, I suspect that would drop a bit.
Defensively, McBryde's been a huge addition. She's already leading the Boilers in blocks, with 17 coming into the game and 5 more tonight (only 2 off the Purdue freshman record, 7 by Donna Gill in 1988), and with her ability to rebound at both ends (22 offensive boards is fourth behind Perry, Keys, and Kiesler (23 in just 218 minutes!)), she's showing talent in areas that this Purdue team desperately needs. She won't fix the outside shooting problem, but she can help with the post game. Hopefully we'll see more of her on Sunday against Iowa. The Hawkeyes aren't quite as tall as Nebraska, and with Iowa starting a lineup smaller even than Purdue's recent set, she might have a significant advantage over 6'1" Kali Peschel.
#18 Purdue (5-2, 14-4)
L vs #49 Nebraska
Sun vs #33 Iowa
Wed at #16 Michigan State
1/30 at #168 Penn State
#7 Ohio State (5-1, 13-4)
Thu at #59 Michigan
Sun at #36 Rutgers
1/28 vs #43 Northwestern
2/1 at #106 Illinois
#5 Maryland (6-1, 17-2)
W at #136 Wisconsin
Sat vs #22 Michigan State
Tue at #168 Penn State
1/30 vs #76 Indiana
#16 Michigan State (5-2, 14-4)
W vs #36 Rutgers
Sat at #5 Maryland
Wed at #18 Purdue
1/31 at #136 Wisconsin