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Purdue University

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Purdue
vs. Akron
What: NCAA women’s tournament, first round
Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday

Boilers open with Akron as draw proves favorable

Purdue women’s basketball coach Sharon Versyp hoped for a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.

She got her wish.

The fourth-seeded Boilermakers (21-8) play host to No. 13 seed Akron (23-9) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s exciting that we’re a No. 4 seed,” Versyp said. “It was a huge grind. We’re ready to get back at it and just get focused on basketball, which is the fun part.”

No. 17 Purdue got a favorable draw in Monday’s bracket selection. The Boilermakers’ road to the Final Four in Nashville, Tenn., doesn’t leave the state of Indiana.

They play in Mackey Arena, their home gym, for the first and second rounds, then, as a member of the South Bend Regional, would travel to Notre Dame’s campus if they advance that far.

“Two years ago, we played at home, so we went through that experience of hosting the NCAAs,” senior guard Courtney Moses said. “It’s about taking it one game at a time.”

The Boilermakers have been idle since March 7, when they lost 87-80 to Iowa in their opening game of the Big Ten tournament. So much downtime made Monday’s selection show even more welcome than usual.

“Practices have been really good,” senior guard Dee Dee Williams said. “Just to have somebody that you’re going to play and know what you’re practicing for and what players you’re going to face is going to be nice. Last week was good, but this week is going to be a lot different.”

Even though Purdue’s at-large bid was a virtual certainty, players still enjoyed seeing the school’s fourth consecutive tournament appearance become official on national television. “It was different but fun at the same time,” Williams said. “I’m just glad we were able to make it into the NCAA tournament. There were a lot of teams who didn’t get to make it. For us to have another opportunity to play again is great.”

In their 23 previous appearances, the Boilermakers have accumulated 45 tournament wins, more than any other Big Ten school.

They have been a No. 4 seed on seven previous occasions, advancing twice to the Elite Eight and four times to the Sweet 16. Purdue has 12 Sweet 16 appearances, eight trips to the Elite Eight, three Final Four berths and one national championship.

It’s a record of success Versyp is building on. This year’s tournament berth is her seventh in eight years as coach.

She feels encouraged about how this team has evolved, especially with second-team all-conference guard KK Houser lost to season-ending knee surgery. “It’s the leadership,” Versyp said. “Our team defense has really improved immensely.”

Akron, champion of the Mid-American Conference, will put that defense to an immediate test. The red-hot Zips average 82.8 points, ninth-best in the nation.

They are 16-1 in their last 17 games and will make their first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.

“They’re from Ohio,” Moses said. “That’s all I know.”

Should the Boilermakers win, they will face the winner of the game between No. 5 seed Oklahoma State and No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast on Monday.

cgoff@jg.net

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