Morrissette, Defense Carry WBB On Senior Day
Seniors Torrie Thornton, Hayden Hamby, and April Wilson played their last two regular-season home games this week, and on each occasion, a teammate had a special going-away present for them. Thursday, Dominique McBryde scored a career-high 23 points on 10-12 shooting to lift the Boilers to a 74-68 overtime win over Rutgers, and Sunday, Ashley Morrissette poured in a career-high 28 to lead Purdue past Wisconsin, 68-48. Depending on which bracket you're checking (certainly not ESPN's, as they apparently can't be bothered to update more than once a week), the Boilers either are safely in or have quite a bit of work to do ... fortunately, unlike the men, the women finish their tournaments well before bracketing begins, so it is possible for Purdue to play their way in without winning the conference tournament. The Boilers will next play around 9ish on Thursday night against the winner of the Illinois-Penn State game.
Yet again, the Boilers spun their wheels a bit in the first quarter, although this time, defense was the problem. Thornton got a steal, an offensive board, and a lay-in on Purdue's first possession, and Wilson got a layup on the next one, but less than two minutes later it was suddenly 9-4 Wisconsin, thanks to a Nicole Bauman 3 and two transition baskets off Purdue misses. The Boilers settled down, retaking the lead initially after threes from Hamby and Morrissette, and then again for good after a Wilson three, but a late layup by Tessa Cichy drew Wisconsin within two, 26-24, after one. Given the Boilers' troubles in Madison and their recent inability to put teams away at home, a majority of the 7,146 fans in attendance would have been excused for thinking the game was far from over. (I was not one of them; I was a little under the weather and figured I wouldn't miss a 7-20 opponent getting shelled.)
In fact, the second quarter marked the end of Wisconsin's chances, as .176 shooting dug them a hole they would never escape. After a Cichy basket tied the game for the last time, the Boilers ran off six straight, capped by another Hamby three, and then followed a Michala Johnson basket with 10 straight points, 8 of which came from Morrissette. Wisconsin managed to slow the junior the rest of the quarter, holding her to a single free throw make, but missed opportunities and fouls kept the Badgers from cutting into the lead much, and Purdue went into the locker room up 43-32.
In the third, it was Purdue's turn to cool off, and Wisconsin managed to get the lead down to 7, but this time it was Bridget Perry from outside pushing Purdue up 10 again, and Wisconsin would not get closer than that. The Badgers ran out of steam in the fourth, managing just 4 points (two from Johnson and two from Avyanna Young), and Purdue was able to give their seniors a comfortable win to close out Big 14 play.
Purdue was 9 of 15 from three: Morrissette was 5 for 8, Hamby 2 for 2, Perry and Wilson 1 for 2 each, and Andreona Keys missed her only attempt. Wisconsin's attempt to zone Purdue didn't work very well, but they could be forgiven for trying, given the Boilers' previous attempts at shooting over one. As well as Wisconsin defended inside - Purdue shot .421 from inside the arc and got a 3 for 13 performance from their bigs - something had to give, and it happened on a day where the Badgers weren't hitting anything from distance. Johnson led Wisconsin with 18 points, but she was 9 for 16 from two: Bauman was 1 for 7 outside, Dakota Whyte was 1 for 2, and three Badgers combined to go 1 for 4.
McBryde pulled down 10 defensive boards, blocked 2 shots and had 0 turnovers in 24 minutes; she's clearly done enough to warrant that kind of playing time on a regular basis. There should be more than enough minutes to go around with Thornton's graduation and Perry's lower stamina (it's no small feat to play DI basketball when you (presumably) have asthma, but it does take its toll), but I'd like to see Dominique get some extra minutes, too: .529 from the field to lead the team, fifth in total points despite playing just 465 minutes (Keys was just under 800; Wilson led the team with 890), third in FT attempts (behind Perry and Keys), third in rebounds (also behind Perry and Keys) ... with another year of experience, she should be part of a formidable frontcourt in 2016-17.
Morrissette, Perry and Tiara Murphy should benefit from McBryde's inside game: a solid post presence takes pressure off outside shooters, and at some point, a defense has to concede one to focus on the other. Although Hamby and Wilson can hit from outside, they were both less accurate than the three returning shooters (Wilson at .347, Hamby at .353; Morrissette was the "worst" of the other three at .366), so if the departing attempts are distributed primarily among returning players, even with some drop in accuracy, Purdue's offense should benefit (and boy, does it need that help) - of course, if Murphy can hit .500 from three in more attempts, McBryde, Bree Horrocks and Nora Kiesler will have a field day inside.
I think it would be nice for Purdue to make the NCAAs, not just because that's a mark of a better season, but because WNIT attendance isn't always that great, and it would be a shame for these seniors to play their final game in Mackey in front of a small crowd. While the Boilers will once again be among the leaders in attendance (as of yesterday, they were 10th, averaging 6,193, with six of the nine schools ahead of them playing in larger arenas), there's a big difference between conference attendance and non-conference attendance, and not just because of the calendar ... although it does play a role, and first-round WNIT games will be played during spring break.
#5 Maryland (16-2, 27-3)
Those three losses are to Ohio State (twice) and by 10 to UConn at a neutral site, which is like beating a normal team by 10. They should easily handle anyone other than OSU in the tournament, and the way the Buckeyes have been playing, that may not be a problem.
#9 Ohio State (15-3, 23-6)
Speaking of that, OSU effectively had a 1.5-game lead on Maryland coming into this week, thanks to that sweep. The only way OSU could lose the #1 seed is if they were swept by Minnesota and Michigan State and Maryland won out. Well, the Gophers handed OSU a two-point loss on Wednesday, and then MSU stole a two-point triple-overtime win in East Lansing on Saturday. Maryland held serve, and now OSU is coming to Indy as the #2 seed and with a lot of questions. Can they hold off the Spartans and get past Maryland? Not unless they get things turned around.
#18 Michigan State (13-5, 22-7)
Sparty was struggling just three weeks ago, falling to Penn State at home and Nebraska in Lincoln. They haven't lost since, and that epic win Saturday should give them confidence if the seeding holds and it's a State matchup on Saturday.
#35 Indiana (12-6, 20-10)
The Hoosiers ended up winning their final two games as well, good enough for 20 wins and a bye to Friday. They're not in the same class as the top teams, but their conference-opening loss at Wisconsin is a distant memory now. If they get a quality win or two in the CT, they could significantly improve their NCAA seeding.
#44 Minnesota (11-7, 19-10)
The Gophers had two chances to prove they belonged in the field of 64, and they made the most of one, knocking off Ohio State 90-88 and opening the door for Maryland to steal the conference title, which the Terrapins did ... by thrashing the Gophers in College Park. There's no shame in that - Minnesota isn't where they are because of their defense, so 110 points is just a thing that can happen against an elite team. If the Gophers can get past the Thursday Trap (neither Wisconsin nor Northwestern should pose a challenge), taking the rubber match with the Hoosiers would give them one more crack at Maryland, although even a win there might not outweigh their woeful RPI.
#36 Purdue (10-8, 19-10)
As predicted, the Boilers did win both home games, but they didn't look that good in either one. Their tournament status likely didn't improve, and even if they were in, they're not seeded high enough to survive Championship Week upsets. Getting to Friday and upsetting the Spartans might give them the breathing room they need, though.
#56 Nebraska (9-9, 18-11)
Nebraska may remember this season like Purdue remembers last season - untimely injuries. The Huskers dropped two straight at home, and while they did stop the tailspin with a win over Northwestern, this isn't the same club that knocked off Michigan State on the 14th.
#41 Michigan (9-9, 17-12)
Michigan held on to win in Evanston, but were crushed in Piscataway in a game that dropped them to #8 thanks to Purdue and Nebraska winning. The Wolverines did win 6 of their last 9, with the other losses on the road at MSU and Maryland, but they're too far back to get in without winning the CT.
#50 Iowa (8-10, 18-12)
Iowa got thumped at Penn State and barely beat a woeful Illini squad at home. If they get a WNIT bid, they'll be ripe for a first-round upset.
#46 Rutgers (8-10, 17-13)
The Scarlet Knights did the best they could to finish the season, dropping a close game to MSU and a slightly-less-close one to Maryland, then falling on the road to Purdue and thumping Michigan, but a four-point January loss at Iowa drops them to the #10 seed. An upset over what looks to be Ohio State on Friday would make an NCAA bid possible, but I don't think Rutgers has earned it.
#91 Penn State (6-12, 11-18)
The Lady Lions have alternated wins and losses in their last seven ... but dropped two of their last three at home, including one to Rutgers, and won two of their last three road games, including one at Michigan State. It's anyone's guess as to which team will show up each night, so the Boilers would do well to prepare for Good PSU - a loss would all but kill Purdue's NCAA hopes.
#76 Northwestern (4-14, 15-15)
The Wildcats would probably like to forget everything that happened after their 86-82 shocker over Ohio State on January 14: except for a couple of Ws against the dregs of the conference, Northwestern has only Ls to show for that part of their schedule. They'll get one more win over Wisconsin before Minnesota runs them ragged on Thursday.
#143 Wisconsin (3-15, 7-21)
I guess the Badgers should be grateful they didn't end up playing Illinois again. Wisconsin does have two solid games to their credit, wins over Purdue and Indiana in Madison, but that sweep by the Illini is a better indicator of the current state of the program.
#131 Illinois (2-16, 9-20)
A good bit of their problem is the strength of the conference and of the Illini's non-conference schedule: they beat #48 Ohio and #86 Central Michigan at home and played #23 Miami tough at Miami, and they finished December with three more two-digit Massey teams before losing to Maryland. The rest of it is just not being good enough to beat anyone other than Wisconsin, and 10 of their 16 losses were by 10 points or more ... it would be no surprise for Penn State to make that 11.
Big 14 Tournament Schedule
Game 1 - #13 Wisconsin (7-21) vs #12 Northwestern (15-15), 1:30 PM
Game 2 - #14 Illinois (9-20) vs #11 Penn State (11-18), 30 minutes after Game 1
Game 3 - #9 Iowa (18-12) vs #8 Michigan (17-12), 12:00 noon
Game 4 - Game 1 winner vs #5 Minnesota (19-10), 30 minutes after Game 3
Game 5 - #10 Rutgers (17-13) vs #7 Nebraska (18-11), 6:30 PM
Game 6 - Game 2 winner vs #6 Purdue (19-10), 30 minutes after Game 5
Game 7 - Game 3 winner vs #1 Maryland (27-3), 12:00 noon
Game 8 - Game 4 winner vs #4 Indiana (20-10), 30 minutes after Game 7
Game 9 - Game 5 winner vs #2 Ohio State (23-6), 6:30 PM
Game 10 - Game 6 winner vs #3 Michigan State (22-7), 30 minutes after Game 9
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs Game 8 winner, 3:00 PM
Game 12: Game 9 winner vs Game 10 winner, 30 minutes after Game 11
Game 13: Game 11 winner vs Game 12 winner, 7 PM
Feature image from Purdue Sports. Torrie's not standing up straight, right? I mean, one of these players is definitely taller than the others, and Versyp wasn't a forward ...