WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - Purdue coach Sharon Versyp walked into Friday’s media room ready to go.
She had her trademark game face, the right script and the perfect motivational speech - protect the home court and extend their first-round mastery in the NCAA tournament.
She left out one of the things her players are after Saturday: Celebrating Versyp’s 300th career win.
“I just feel like through the four years and all the adversity we’ve been through, she’s become more of a mother to us,” senior guard Dee Dee Williams said. “Granted we are here for four years, and freshman year, she’s always going to be your mother away from home. But with everything we’ve been through the past couple months, the past couple years, she’s really become a mother to us. Thank you, coach.”
The comment drew laughter, even a chuckle from the usually stone-faced Versyp.
Getting here has been no easy feat.
The Boilermakers (21-8) had to win 10 of their last 12 games just to earn the No. 4 seed and a first-round date against Mid-American Conference champion and No. 13 seeded Akron (23-9) in the Notre Dame Regional. Purdue’s last six wins all came without starting guard KK Houser, the redshirt senior who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee Feb. 2.
And now, after a rare early exit in the Big Ten tournament, Purdue faces a team that has two of the nation’s top 15 scorers this season and four players who have topped 1,000 points.
That plays right into Versyp’s old-school style.
“Coach always says that defense wins championships, wins games and offense sells tickets,” guard Courtney Moses said.
They’re about to find out if that philosophy still works.
For the Zips, this is a new experience. Akron may be best known for giving Gerry Faust and Jim Tressel second chances and Bob Huggins his first Division I head coaching job, but now the women’s team is making its NCAA debut after winning 16 of 17.
The bad news is they’re up against a team that is 19-1 in the first round and 19-7 at home in the NCAA tournament.
The good news is that President Obama picked Akron to pull the upset in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader. Fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (23-8) takes on 12th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the first game.
“I love it. Thanks, Obama,” Akron point guard Kacie Cassell said. “That’s awesome.”
Purdue’s players have other plans, though Versyp doesn’t want her quest to become the focal point.
“If we can get another win, that’s fantastic and then hopefully it will be another milestone,” Versyp said as she thanked those who helped put her on the precipice of No. 300.
Here are five other things to watch Saturday:
SCORING BIG: Akron’s Rachel Tecca and Hanna Luburgh will put stress on any defense. Tecca, a 6-foot-1 forward and the MAC tourney MVP, averages 22.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Luburgh, a 5-10 guard, averages 22.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and was the MAC scoring champ. Purdue allows just 68.2 points per game.
CAN YOU HEAR ME?: After assessing what led to 20 turnovers in the Big Ten tourney loss to Iowa, Purdue apparently got the message. Versyp, Moses and Williams all acknowledged they need to communicate better against Akron.
THE CHASE: Oklahoma State may have survived the rugged Big 12, but it hasn’t faced an offense quite like Florida Gulf Coast’s. Of the Eagles’ 1,900 field goal attempts this season, 972 (51.2 percent) came from beyond the arc. That means even with size, strength and perhaps speed advantages, the Cowboys will be chasing shooters on the perimeter and tracking down long rebounds.
BACK HOME: It might not seem like Florida Gulf Coast has a home-court advantage after traveling almost 1,200 miles. But 10 of the 16 players on the Eagles’ roster are from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. Coach Karl Smesko also spent two seasons coaching at IPFW, an Indiana school, before taking his current job in 2002-03. Not only will have the crowd pulling for an upset, they’re likely to win over Indiana fans who have always liked the long-distance shooters.
MARATHON WOMAN: Oklahoma State’s Tiffany Bias may get the most camera time of anybody in West Lafayette. She led the Cowgirls in scoring (14.2 points) and assists (185) and averages a stunning 36.6 minutes per game.
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