WBB Runs Out Of Gas, Falls To Michigan 68-61
With the recent overexpansion, schedules have become unbalanced both in opponents and in location. The women had a stretch where they played 4 of 5 games in Mackey, but today's game against Michigan was the second home game sandwiched between three pairs of road games, and unlike the old traveling-partner days (although at least next week, at Iowa and Nebraska Thursday and Sunday, would match the old format), these games can take you just about anywhere. First it was East Lansing and Happy Valley; last week it was Madison and College Park.
After two tough road losses (a poor game at Wisconsin and a strong effort at Maryland), the Boilers came back to West Lafayette down a player again: Tiara Murphy was on the sideline during warmups and missing during the game, so if I had to guess, I'd say her stress fracture flared up again. (It's hard to find injury information, so actually I do have to guess. EDIT: WBB reports via Twitter that she suffered a concussion at Maryland and is progressing well.) Hayden Hamby returned for her first game since January 2nd, but Bree Horrocks wasn't yet 100% after suffering what turned out to be an MCL injury at Penn State (missed one week? whoa - I know MCL is not ACL, but still), and that left Sharon Versyp with just three healthy players (plus Horrocks and walk-on Abby Abel) on her bench. This late in the season, even full-strength players aren't where they were in November, and Purdue stepped on the court with less than that against a Michigan team featuring the third-best scorer in the Big 14, sophomore Katelynn Flaherty.
The Boilers managed to keep Flaherty relatively in check, holding her to 17 points (5.4 below her average), but she got plenty of help inside from Hallie Thome (14 points) and Madison Ristovski (11) and outside from Siera Thompson (13, 3-4 from 3), and that turned out to be enough to outrun Purdue's tired legs. As has been the case before, the Boilers made a couple of runs, but just dug themselves too deep a hole, and there wasn't enough time or energy to climb back out of it.
Once again, Purdue started off on the wrong foot. April Wilson grabbed the opening tip at full speed, streaked down the court and fed Andreona Keys with a behind-the-back pass ... that turned out to be too long and went out of bounds of Keys. The teams traded misses before Ristovski started the scoring with a three. Ashley Morrissette lost the ball on the next possession, and things started to look bad.
Defense turned things around quickly, as steals from Morrissette and Bridget Perry led to Purdue scores, and a block by Keys led to a Torrie Thornton layup, her second in a row, that had the Good Gals up 6-3. Morrissette would turn the ball over twice more, but Purdue's persistence in the paint helped them open a 5-point lead at the end of the quarter, led by Thornton's 6 and 4 each from Keys and Dominique McBryde.
Michigan isn't particularly tall aside from the 6'5" Thome, so you'd think with her out of the game, Purdue could win their matchups against Michigan's four-guard lineup. Well, that would have been the case if Horrocks were 100% or if Kiesler were more polished on offense, or if Thornton or Perry were more center-ish rather than forward-ish, but instead, with Thome missing nearly the entire quarter with two fouls, Michigan's inside D shut down the Boiler attack (2 for 10 inside the arc, both baskets in the paint), and the Wolverines dominated the glass (13 to 2 overall, grabbing 4 of 5 on offense and 9 of 10 on defense), putting the Boilers in a 6-point halftime hole from which they would not recover.
Although Michigan only forced 3 turnovers in the quarter (and committed 7 of their own), they began to wear at Purdue by using a three-quarter-court trap. The trap itself normally isn't an issue, but with the guards wearing down from so much work, breaking the trap became more work than it should be, and in doing so, the Boilers not only struggled to get into their offense, but they expended more effort doing so, and you could see the effects on both offense and defense.
In the third quarter, it only got worse, as Michigan was up 6-3 in turnovers. The Boilers found their rebounding legs for a bit (15 to 10), but everyone was struggling, both from the field (4 for 15) and uncharacteristically from the line (2 of 7; Hamby was 2 for 2). Flaherty struggled as well, going 0 for 3 outside and 0 for 1 inside the arc, but Thome scored 8 of Michigan's 17, and the Wolverines were up as much as 13 before Horrocks hit a late basket to cut the lead to 11 on an and-one. She missed the free throw, Michigan rebounded, and the Boilers went into the fourth quarter down 11.
Normally, that's April Wilson time, but Wilson played 29 of the first 30 minutes and apparently had nothing left to give. (I think it's safe to assume she'd have gone back in if Versyp had let her.) That left Morrissette in charge, and the junior did her best, scoring 12 of her team-high 19 in the fourth. After Thome hit both free throws when Keys' fourth foul sent her to the line, Michigan was up 56-44. McBryde was called for double dribble (a good call, surprisingly; the clown show got a lot of things wrong, but nailed this one and an earlier call of the same on Flaherty, who spent about 15 seconds staring at the ref and trying to remember the last time she'd seen it called) ... but Michigan missed 4 shots before finally giving Morrissette free throws. That set up the under-5 timeout, and with 4:32 left, Purdue needed a run to get back in the game.
They got one. Morrissette hit both to cut the lead to 10. Keys stole the ball from Thompson and laid it in to make it 56-48. Perry grabbed a Thompson miss and Morrissette hit a layup to cut it to 56-50, forcing Michigan to call a timeout. Perry stole the ball from Flaherty on the next possession and Keys cut the lead to 4, 56-52 ... but Purdue would not get closer. There just wasn't enough gas in the tank - Morrissette would score seven more points, and McBryde would get a layup, but the Boilers just couldn't keep up on defense, and Michigan got enough from Flaherty's teammates to end the comeback.
The loss drops Purdue into a three-way tie with Michigan and Rutgers for seventh, and that's probably where this team belongs. Of Purdue's most frequent starters, only Bridget Perry has missed a game (the Michigan State game with a concussion) - the injuries have been to their bench ... but three of their five bench players have missed time, with Murphy and Hamby missing significant time. The departures of Erica Moore and Justine Hall were unexpected, but they took away the safety net that Versyp would have used in these games. Michigan brought 11 players and two rarely-used reserves to West Lafayette; that's the standard for Big 14 play, and once again, a Purdue team finds themselves short on players when they need help. There isn't much that can be done about it - few players will sign on to ride the bench for four years - but it would be nice if the women's team had a few more walk-ons, or if Abel got some more PT. Wilson's played 890 minutes this year, Morrissette 814, and Keys 796. Someone's got to help them out, or there won't be a backcourt in Indianapolis.
Speaking of Indy, Purdue's put themselves in a tolerable position for a team that's sliding down the standings. As a 5 or 6 seed, they'd play someone between 11 and 14 on Thursday, and those are the games that don't help your RPI if you win and hurt it if you lose. (Granted, the brackets are mostly decided by then, but if you're trying to play your way in, you need quality wins, and those don't generally don't happen on Thursday.) As an 8 or 9, they'd play, well, the 9 or 8, and they'd play the 10 as the 7 seed. 7-8-9 are all teams in position to grab one of the last at-large bids (Rutgers is 16-10 with a 40 RPI prior to today, Michigan 15-10 with a 77 RPI), and Iowa is kind of in the picture if they finish strong (5-8 in conference, 15-10 overall, 57 RPI). Purdue's RPI is 51, which isn't great but at least suggests an at-large bid is possible.
The problem is that 7-7 isn't great, and only one of the remaining four games is clearly winnable. Purdue travels to Iowa and 8-6 Nebraska next, but it's hard to see the Boilers taking one of those when they have just one win over a winning team on the road ... against Michigan on New Year's Eve. They finish at home against Rutgers and Wisconsin; the Badgers should be beatable, although the win in Madison will give them hope, but if Purdue's chances at an NCAA appearance come down to the Rutgers game ... well, maybe we'll get one more chance to root for Wilson, Thornton and Hamby in Mackey. The one saving grace is that Michigan and Rutgers also have tough schedules remaining, so it's possible none of these three will finish at .500 in conference play.
The roads weren't great today, but I made the trip to West Lafayette for you, the readers. We go to the ends of the earth, or at least the end of SR 38, to provide you with coverage you can only get at like seven or eight other places ... only without that dose of reality we give you here.
Well, OK. I also made the trip for cookies. Insomnia should set up a booth in Mackey. Do they know how many kids go to these games? They would make a killing. Also they could have Purdue Pete shoot cookie dough out of his T-shirt gun during a timeout. Don't look at me like that, it's a great idea and you know it.
#37 Purdue (7-7, 16-9)
L vs #63 Michigan
Thu at #51 Iowa
Sun at #50 Nebraska
2/25 vs #41 Rutgers
2/28 vs #134 Wisconsin
#31 Nebraska (8-6, 17-8)
W vs #18 Michigan State
Thu at #8 Ohio State
Sun vs #37 Purdue
2/24 vs #44 Indiana
2/28 vs #67 Northwestern
#41 Rutgers (7-7, 16-10)
W at #143 Illinois
Thu vs #18 Michigan State
Sun vs #6 Maryland
2/25 at #37 Purdue
2/28 vs #63 Michigan
#63 Michigan (7-7, 15-10)
W at #37 Purdue
Wed at #6 Maryland
Sat vs #106 Penn State
2/23 at #67 Northwestern
2/28 at #41 Rutgers
Feature image from Purdue Sports. Would have liked to see more of this Sunday.