It’s hard to put defensive battles into words.
Partially because it’s a bunch of deflections, missed shots, turnovers and broken down plays that have you at a loss for words and leaning in your seat as every shot goes towards the rim, trying to the urge the ball through the net to put everyone out of their misery. It’s typically not pretty but gritty and hard nosed.
It was the game that was expected when #8 Kansas State took on #9 Purdue for the chance to take on Connecticut in the 2nd round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament’s Philadelphia Subregional.
I missed the first 14 minutes of the 1st half while attending the press conferences of Hartford and Connecticut. I walked in to ‘the ugliest half of a half in the history of women’s basketball’ is how a colleague described the beginning of the game.
Kansas State missed their first 9 shots from the field. When they got their first points with 12:54 remaining in the half, they were only down 3 points. (2-5).
The tides were able to turn with the Boilermakers hitting 3 pointers and KSU’s determination to stop settling for outside shots. This allowed for both teams to get into a better rhythm.
Purdue led 25-17 at the half behind 10 points from the come-back kid, Drey Mingo with 10 points. Purdue’s leading scorer Brittany Rayburn had 8 points but those were early, primarily due to Kansas State’s focus on her. But when her team needed her Rayburn turned it on.
"She really did a nice job of mixing looks," KSU head coach Deb Patterson said of Rayburn. "I thought that aggressiveness and that expectation of success that she brought and when she stepped out and hit that one three, those were big plays. Somebody in this game needed to own the game offensively. It was going to be a low scoring game, we talked about that at half. That’s ok, as long as you score more. I thought Brittany was the difference maker. Drey Mingo would hit a couple every now and then that would frustrate you, but Brittany kind of took the game over when the game was sort of in balance."
Purdue was shooting 45% at the half while holding K State to 21.9% but was being out rebounded by 2 and only up 7 points after being up by as many as 11.
Kansas State went to work on the glass to start the 2nd half, but unfortunately for them that work did not lead to points.
"I felt like I was watching paint in the first half to watch up try to execute offensively," Patterson said. "We were not moving and things were difficult for us."
Purdue was able to penetrate and was rewarded with 16 trips to the free throw line. The proved to be the difference as the Wildcats only managed 2 trips to the line, partially because of their desire to take so many outside shots.
"We just knew we had to get to the free throw line," junior guard Brittany Rayburn said, who made all six of her free throws. "That's our strength and it definitely brought us back."
Kansas State finished by outrebounding Purdue 42-27 but only had 13 second chance points.
Purdue had their largest lead of the 2nd half with 5:12 remaining at 9 points. The Kansas State Wildcats came roaring back 1 more time to climb within 1 with 2:12 left, but the Wildcats would not score again in the game.
"That wasn’t a great exhibition of offense," Patterson said. "I thought probably the difference all and all was the individual playmaking ability that Purdue brought to the floor in situations that were real critical to the game. Drey [Mingo] made some really important plays, [Brittany] Rayburn made some really important plays at critical times and we didn’t counter that on the offensive end of the floor. You knew they were going to make some plays, but unfortunately for us we just weren’t very efficient offensively. Credit Purdue with a good job on the defensive end for apparently disrupting what we would have liked to have done offensively today."
While Kansas State struggled to find someone to put the ball in the basket at crunch time, Purdue’s next opponent will have no such problem. Purdue advances to play the Connecticut Huskies, Tuesday (ESPN, 7:00 PM), who defeated the University of Hartford 75-39 before 6,418 at Gampel Pavilion. That match up has everyone excited including the coaches.
"We are on the national stage and UConn is the best team in the country so it is an opportunity for us to play at the highest level and to play as hard as possible and enjoy the experience," said Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp.
Perhaps by then I’ll find more words besides gritty and determined to describe Purdue.