Keys Shines As WBB Stuns Nebraska, Splits Final Road Trip Of Season
On a day where three Big 14 teams broke the 100-point mark in regulation, one team in Lincoln managed just 21 points in the first half and 50 for the game.
It wasn't Purdue.
Allie Havers scored 2 of her 12 points at the line on Nebraska's opening possession; three seconds later, Torrie Thornton tied it up, a Thornton steal led to an Ashley Morrissette basket just 53 seconds in, and Purdue had a lead they would not relinquish. The surprising 68-50 win dragged Nebraska back into a three-way tie for sixth with Purdue and Michigan, two games behind Indiana and Minnesota and just one game ahead of Iowa and Rutgers. With one week and two games left, the Boilers could theoretically finish anywhere from fourth (in a three-way tie, Purdue gets fourth thanks to sweeping their home week vs. IU and Minnesota) to tenth (by losing out and finishing tied with Rutgers or maybe Iowa/all three) - your guess is as good as mine.
The Huskers were missing two senior starters, guards Rachel Theriot and Kyndal Clark, so you can imagine the impact that had on Nebraska ... or you can look to Purdue's play when April Wilson is out.
With the Boilers finally approaching full strength - Bree Horrocks played 15 minutes, so she may not yet be 100%, but Hayden Hamby and Tiara Murphy played about their usual minutes - the regular starters got more rest than in the last couple of weeks, and it showed. Andreona Keys had a night worthy of fantasy basketball stardom, with 8 points, 10 boards (8 on offense!!), 6 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks, all in just 30 minutes. Morrissette led all scorers with 19 points on 13 shot equivalents in 28 minutes, and while Wilson went pretty much the whole way, she was reasonably effective as well, with 13 points on 14 shots.
On defense, the Good Gals smothered Jessica Shepard, holding her to a single basket in 24 minutes on 1 of 9 shooting (she had 22 in the one-point win in West Lafayette), and although Natalie Romeo scored 15 to lead the Huskers, it took her 19 shot equivalents, including 3 of 10 from long distance, basically half as well as she shot at Purdue (5 for 9, 2 for 5). Nebraska shot just .358 as a team and were outrebounded on defense (18 OReb for Purdue, 17 DReb for NU).
The Boilers hassled Nebraska into 25% shooting in the first quarter, picking up 5 steals and 4 blocks while committing just 1 foul. If Purdue hadn't shot .381 themselves, the game might have been over at that point; credit the Huskers for hanging in defensively while they hoped to sort out their offensive struggles. After Purdue ran off 9 straight to answer Havers' opening FTs, a Rachel Blackburn jumper and a Romeo three cut the lead back to 2. The teams would trade baskets until the final possession of the quarter, when a Dominique McBryde basket put Purdue up 17-11.
The teams played a fairly close second quarter, each committing 6 turnovers, blocking 1 shot and recording 4 steals, but it was Purdue's edge on the glass - 9 to 3, with Keys outrebounding Nebraska 4-3 - that helped them stretch the lead to 9 at the break. The Huskers had just 8 attempts in the quarter, with no NU player scoring more than once from the field (Anya Kalenta hit her only shot and also nailed a pair of FTs). Morrissette, Keys and Bridget Perry combined for Purdue's 13, going up as much as 11 before Kalenta's free throws and a Maddie Simon jumper cut the lead to 7. Four straight by Morrissette gave Purdue their 11-point lead back, but Kalenta scored the last points of the quarter, pushing Nebraska past the 20-point mark with 12 seconds to go, and the half ended 30-21.
Romeo led Nebraska with 8 third-quarter points, including two threes, but the Boilers hit 10 of 16, including a perfect 3 for 3 from Wilson and Horrocks, as Purdue used a late run to put the game all but out of reach. The first few minutes saw the teams trade pairs of baskets, but after a Romeo three cut the lead to 40-35, Purdue ran off 11 straight points for their largest lead of the game. Havers broke the run after a missed three by Romeo, but a Wilson basket gave the Boilers their 16-point lead back, and Morrissette blocked a Romeo shot to end the quarter at 53-37.
There would be no last-second winner for Nebraska this time, as they shot just .308 in the final period and were outrebounded 14 to 5. The lead never dropped below 14, and a McBryde basket in the paint gave the Boilers their largest lead 68-47, before a late Kalenta three got the Huskers to 50 and closed out the scoring.
This was not the road game I thought Purdue had a chance to win, and it turned out to be a badly-needed win after they fell to Iowa. For the Boilers to keep their tournament hopes alive, they needed at least one more quality win, and while Nebraska may not end up in the field, they're at least near the bubble, so this might be a good start. It's imperative they beat Wisconsin and Rutgers - the Badgers are awful, and there's no room for home losses now, especially not to a team competing with Purdue for an at-large bid.
Having a full complement of bench players meant that Versyp could go back to putting in players when the need arose, and pretty much everyone contributed in the box score ... even Murphy, who had just one shot in 8 minutes, still provided 8 minutes of rest to divide between Morrissette and Keys, and Horrocks, McBryde and Nora Kiesler gave Thornton and Perry rest.
Ballhandling is still an issue - 17 turnovers vs. 16 for Nebraska - but when you're +19 in rebounds, that's not really a big deal. Also, the Boilers had a sizable edge in points off TOs, 19-7, because they frequently either turn it over in the post (6 TOs by bigs, counting Perry as a guard) or in a situation where players can get back and defend.
Three-point shooting is still a concern (3 for 11), but it is what it is. Purdue can hit from outside given enough time, but if they dig themselves a big hole, transition baskets will have to get them out of it.
With just two games left for everyone, I thought I'd take a stab at projecting where relevant teams will finish. Barring an upset, OSU will take the top seed thanks to their sweep of Maryland, and Michigan State will be #3 after they beat hapless Illinois.
#42 Indiana (10-6, 18-10) - will finish 11-7
Indiana doesn't have a quality road win either, but they do visit Nebraska Wednesday, and they also have a 16-point win over Michigan State in January on their resume. No, they didn't play OSU or Maryland in Assembly Hall, but they beat everyone who came to visit, and when they beat Penn State Saturday, they'll earn a #4 seed and a bye to Friday.
#40 Purdue (8-8, 17-10) - will finish 10-8
The Good Gals are returning to full health at the perfect time: the win over Nebraska, coupled with Minnesota's slide and two remaining home games, will vault the Boilers into the #5 seed. It does mean they'll play on Thursday (not sure if I'd be able to get away to watch that one or not, 2:30ish start time), but remember, teams generally don't play their way into the NCAAs during conference tournaments. This will be a time for the Boilers to get one or two good games in before postseason play.
#58 Minnesota (10-6, 18-9) - will finish 10-8
Talk about unbalanced schedules. Minnesota plays each of the top three teams once, and all three games are in the final eight days of the season. They fell to MSU 114-106 in East Lansing Sunday, and they host Ohio State Wednesday and travel to Maryland Sunday. They'll end the regular season on an L4 (lost at Indiana 2/18), which is probably a reminder that they're not as good as their record suggests. They have no good road wins (the bottom three in the conference, plus 5-19 Kent State) and have no shot at a tournament bid (RPI 79).
#48 Nebraska (8-8, 17-10) - will finish 10-8
What a tough break for Nebraska: after beating the Boilers in West Lafayette, the upset loss at home could send them spinning down into the #7 seed. A three-way tie with Purdue and Minnesota puts Nebraska at the bottom thanks to their loss on the 11th (110-73 ... yeah, maybe Minnesota does deserve that #6), but if Minnesota doesn't lose out, Nebraska wins a head-to-head tie because of their win over MSU ... unless Indiana finishes ahead of Michigan State, then Purdue wins it. Anyway. IU and Northwestern come to Lincoln to finish the season, and the Huskers will dispatch those teams and wait for results of other games. (For Big 14 seeding purposes: with an RPI of 84, Nebraska isn't getting an at-large bid.)
#46 Iowa (7-9, 17-11) - will finish 9-9
The Hawkeyes had a chance to steal one in Minnesota and didn't; that 78-76 loss is keeping them from being in the discussion for a top-5 seed. They finish at Penn State and home to Illinois; they'll win both, but still won't have a good enough RPI to squeak into the tournament. If it's possible to grab an at-large bid by playing well in Indianapolis, they'll have to get out of this spot - they aren't beating Ohio State. They do win a tiebreaker with Michigan based on a split with Indiana (who beat Michigan), but they really need to finish #6 to have a shot at playing on Saturday.
#50 Michigan (8-8, 16-11) - will finish 9-9
The Wolverines let a few games get away from them in Crisler Center, most notably Purdue's 65-63 win on New Year's Eve. They played both Maryland and Ohio State close (7- and 4-point losses, respectively), but fell to Nebraska as well (sounds familiar). Those losses, plus a road loss to Iowa, have Michigan in an unenviable position: they need to sweep Northwestern and Rutgers on the road to have a shot at a better conference seed, and that's a lot to ask. Rutgers will be the stumbling block, and Michigan will be playing next Thursday in Indianapolis for the right to take on Ohio State.
#44 Rutgers (7-9, 16-12) - will finish 8-10
Yep, there are a ton of Big 14 teams clustered together here. Six teams within eleven Massey spots, every one on an even number from 40 (Purdue) through 50 (Michigan). Rutgers hasn't really done anything wrong to get to this spot in the conference, they just haven't done enough right to move out of it. They were unfortunate to draw Ohio State and Michigan State twice each, and those "extra" losses are enough to keep them squarely in the second division. They'll beat Michigan to finish the regular season, but that will just land them Nebraska in the Big 14 tournament, a team they split with in the regular season. That wouldn't be enough to bump Rutgers off the bubble, so assume they, like NU, are headed to the WNIT.
Projected Big 14 Bracket
#13 Wisconsin (3-15, 7-21) vs. #12 Northwestern (4-14, 15-15)
#14 Illinois (2-16, 9-20) vs. #11 Penn State (5-13, 10-19)
#9 Michigan (9-9, 17-12) vs. #8 Iowa (9-9, 19-11)
Northwestern vs. #5 Purdue (10-8, 19-10)
#10 Rutgers (8-10, 17-13) vs. #7 Nebraska (10-8, 19-10)
Penn State vs. #6 Minnesota (10-8, 18-11)
Iowa vs. #1 Ohio State (16-2, 24-5)
Purdue vs. #4 Indiana (11-7, 19-11)
Nebraska vs. #2 Maryland (16-2, 25-3)
Penn State vs. #3 Michigan State (13-5, 22-7)
Ohio State vs. Purdue
Maryland vs. Michigan State
Ohio State vs. Maryland
That thing about beating a team three times in one season? It can be done, and the Buckeyes will do it, earning the automatic bid and a #2 seed (it's too late in the season for anyone to dislodge Notre Dame, South Carolina, Connecticut or Baylor).
Current NCAA Projections
ESPN: Ohio State 2, Maryland 3, Michigan State 6, Indiana 10, Purdue 12
Boilers were bumped down from an 11 because they were projected to meet MSU in the first round, which obvs can't happen.
College Sports Madness: Ohio State 2, Maryland 2, Michigan State 5, Purdue 8, Iowa 10, Indiana 11
Seems highly optimistic and also earns the Boilers a second-round date with Baylor. That would be ... tough.
RealTimeRPI: Ohio State 2*, Maryland 2, Michigan State 5, Indiana 10, Rutgers 12
Boilers are projected 7th behind Iowa, so they have work to do - fortunately a win over Rutgers would open up that 12 seed.
*they're listed as a 1, but UConn isn't listed at all, so I think it's safe to say they have OSU as the top 2 and just ... forgot something?
Feature photo from Nebraska Communications - I could not find one single photo from the Purdue side. Not one. Come on, man.