Some of the best coaching minds handle the NCAA tournament like three separate tournaments in order to keep their team focused...If that's the case, Purdue has just won its second-straight tournament and extended its winning-streak to 5.
It's a whole new day, once again next week as Purdue will face a team that was #1 for a large portion of this season...the UConn Huskies.
J and I, all season, have said anything less than a Sweet 16 appearance would be a disappointment...so in my mind, we're heading to bonus basketball in the coming week. AND, Matty has taken the step he wanted his team to take by hanging around for the second week of the tournament and "making some noise". I think he believes "making noise" is playing above your seed...and doing so, near your opponent's home is even louder.
Purdue showed the Northwest what we've become accustomed to- a team with a strong will who plays tough defense and is generally smart. The early lead didn't surprise Purdue fans, nearly losing the lead and going cold didn't surprise us either, but I bet I'm not the only one who was a touch surprised that in spite of the foul trouble and hostile crowd, Purdue was able to dig deep and survive in Portland. Perhaps just as I'm learning to believe again, maybe this team is too.
With each close victory in the post season, this group of guys is learning about how to battle and what it takes to win the close one. It takes ignoring your loud heart beat and hitting free throws down the stretch (Kramer, Smooge)...It takes being gritty when it looks like the odds are against you (UW's possession deep under the basket in which Hummel came up with a miracle rebound falling out of bounds)...and it takes one player not allowing his team to lose. This evening it was JJ. His line was very good, but the final 2.5 minutes were a masterpiece, defensively. I'm not sure how many shots he was given credit for blocking in that period, but he altered at least five in the Huskies' last three possessions.
But, it was a team effort that got this done. KG quietly scraped a double-double together...Kramer sacraficed his body time and time again while actually looking to take a shot every now and again...Marcus Green's day was cut a bit short when he clearly made fun of an officials Mama, but he was playing hard while in the game...Nemmy hit another three in very limited minutes...Smooge hit key free throws, had 14 points and 6 assists in a solid game (in spite of going very quiet for the majority of the second half)...LewJack frustrated all of us by missing a few lay-ups, but he made a few circus shots in the process and his quickness kept one of the quickest guards in the nation on his heels during stretches of the game; plus he went 5-6 from the charity stripe...and the Ostrich had 7 points on very few shots and 8 rebounds, a couple in near-impossible situations.
And speaking of Robbie, methinks his back is hurting him again...but he continues to play a ton of minutes (38) and draw respect from the opponent defensively that opens up the lane. Hopefully a full 4 day (or so) rest will allow him to gain the hop in his step once again. Regardless, he'll be playing, it seems.
Our Boilers are a solid free throw shooting team, but they were clutch today shooting over 82% from 15 ft. They had as many rebounds as the Huskies (34) who were supposed to dominate the lightweight Boilers on the glass. They took relatively-good care of the basketball, only turning it over 11 times. And the signature Boiler defense was the difference as Purdue stole the ball 5 times and blocked 7 shots. Purdue did the little things this evening and earned a big win because of it.
But let's all be honest- there's more in the tank for this team. They can play better...and I believe we haven't seen their best game of '09. Regardless if I'm right or not, it will take that type of effort to beat the opponent(s) that lie ahead in the coming round(s).
Have I ever told you guys that I hate Duke and Gonzaga? Well, Gonzaga just earned their way into the round of 16 in a tight game, and Duke looks like it's about to...but even that can't ruin my evening.
In a truly perfect world, our Boilers would have a chance to avenge the early-season embarrassment at Mackey in 15 days-or-so...but as for tonight, the victory over Washington feels pretty damned good.