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Purdue University

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Purdue
vs. Akron
What: NCAA women’s tournament, first round
Where: West Lafayette
When: 1:30 p.m. today
TV: ESPN2

Boilers rested, ready, motivated

After playing just one game in the past 19 days, the Purdue women’s basketball team is back on center stage.

Boilermakers coach Sharon Versyp has played out the possible scenarios in her mind. Rested? Rusty? She isn’t certain.

But she is sure that No. 17 Purdue will open the NCAA tournament as motivated as any school in the 64-team bracket.

Although the fifth-seeded Boilermakers went 21-8 in the regular season, they have no tolerance for settling.

They talk about how much senior KK Houser means to the team, how she stayed as upbeat as she was before a season-ending knee injury, how she learned to impact the game from the bench.

They talk about how humbling it was to lose their Big Ten tournament opener after winning the title two years in a row.

They said their defense has plenty of work left to do, and that Purdue needs to snap a drought of four consecutive seasons without a Sweet 16 appearance.

Boiling things down, Versyp said it’s inspiration that can separate this bunch.

Iowa’s offense operated with comfort all over the court, and an 87-80 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 7 left No. 17 Purdue a tad angry waiting for its next contest.

A crack at the Big Dance begins today at Mackey Arena against No. 12 seed Akron.

“What I like about this team is they’re never satisfied,” Versyp said. “None of us liked what happened. We can’t control that. We’ve had some hungry practices to hopefully get back to the way we’re supposed to be playing. We have to get back to playing defense.”

That is what fueled Purdue’s six-game winning streak after Houser, an all-conference guard, tore an anterior cruciate ligament.

The Boilermakers held opponents to point totals of 73, 66, 58, 56, 54 and 42.

Defense, Purdue says, will be a key to its tournament run. And Versyp chalks up her team’s defensive gains to improved concentration.

“It’s understanding if you do follow and execute a game plan, we are successful,” said Versyp, who seeks her 300th career win today. “Our focus is going to be on the little things. That takes time. It’s a journey and a process through the year. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

And it’s more difficult against the up-and-down, fast-paced Zips, who rank ninth in the nation in scoring at 82.8 points per game.

“They’re fantastic in transition, on a made basket or missed basket,” Versyp said. “They just run the floor exceptionally well. We have to do a good job of not allowing layups. We have to get them to take different shots in transition.”

Purdue’s defensive formula is simple: double the post if necessary, with guards Dee Dee Williams and April Wilson drawing the hardest assignments, and let forward Camille Redmon bring matchup versatility.

“I think Camille has improved her perimeter defense,” Versyp said. “We’ve really tried to get her out away from the basket some. She has great length, good size. Camille just brings a different element.”

Make no mistake, though: This team’s driving force is hunger, not strategy.

“We’re very hungry, with everything we’ve been through this season, with KK going down and different things going on,” Williams said. “We were sad we lost in the Big Ten tournament as early as we did. Now we’re hungry to get back to the Sweet 16 and to go further than that.”

Rested? Rusty? To Williams, it is immaterial.

“Once the tournament gets going, everything is just going to start clicking in,” she said. “It’s scary but, at the same time, fun and exciting. I know we’re excited. I know we’re ready. We’re just hungry.”

cgoff@jg.net

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