Healthy Hummel leads Purdue to matchup with Gaels

No one is more excited about Purdue’s NCAA tournament game

against Saint Mary’s than Robbie Hummel.

The Boilermakers’ star is right back where he wants to be after

missing the tournament the past two years because of two anterior

cruciate ligament tears in his right knee.

No. 10-seeded Purdue (21-12) meets the No. 7 Gaels (27-5) on

Friday in the Midwest Regional. Hummel is looking for a big finish

to his career after returning to average 16.7 points and 7.1

rebounds this season while making first-team all-Big Ten.

”Sitting out the last two years, it’s been frustrating,”

Hummel said Thursday. ”It’s made this time all the more special

for me. When you miss something like that – where you’ve grown up

watching the tournament and always wanting to play in it – it’s

disappointing to not be with your team.”

Hummel and the Boilermakers are playing some of their best ball

lately. The 6-foot-8 senior forward scored better than 21 points

per game last month and the Boilermakers won six of eight before

losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.

”He’s had a long road and didn’t get into rhythm shooting the

basketball until February,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. ”You

see all his hard work paying off and you feel good about him. He

deserves to have this opportunity.”

Hummel and his teammates will be facing a motivated Saint Mary’s

team. The Gaels reached the round of 16 two years ago but had to

settle for an NIT bid last season.

”Our guys took that pretty hard,” coach Randy Bennett


The Gaels, who swept the West Coast Conference regular-season

and tournament titles, are among only five teams to have won at

least 25 games each of the last five years. They still have seven

players from the 2009-10 team that put the school on the college

basketball map.

”I think that experience will definitely help us down the

stretch,” senior forward Rob Jones said. ”We need leadership, and

also when it comes down to a tight game, we will have a lot of

confidence in ourselves.”

Purdue and Saint Mary’s have never met. The Gaels, in fact,

haven’t played an opponent from the Big Ten since 1976.

Hummel earned all-Big Ten honors his freshman and sophomore

seasons and was averaging 15.7 points and 6.9 rebounds as a junior

before he tore his ACL the first time on Feb. 24, 2010. Purdue

still made it to the regional semifinals.

The Boilermakers figured to be a national-title contender in

2010-11, but Hummel tore the ACL again and missed the entire


Bennett gushed at his news conference Thursday when Hummel’s

name was brought up.

”First of all, he’s a legend,” Bennett said. ”He must have a

big heart. I don’t know him that well. I just watch him compete.

For him to come back and get his team back in the NCAA tournament

… he’s got what you want and what it takes to be a special guy.

I’ve heard about him for years and to finally see him up close is

kind of fun, until tomorrow.”

There were times earlier this season when Hummel let doubts

creep into his mind about whether he would be as effective as he

used to be.

”Will I be able to play at a high level again? Will I be able

to just shoot the ball?” he said. ”There were times that I was

asking myself if I’ll be on the court, or will our team be in (the

NCAA tournament)?”

Hummel scored a season-high 29 points against Nebraska on Feb.

22, three nights after grabbing a season-high 15 rebounds against

Michigan State.

There was no doubt Hummel had made it all the way back.

”Most guys will quit,” Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson said.

”You had to guess if he’s going to be the same player, or does he

want to get back out there? When I’m tired, if I’m nicked up, I

look at what he’s been through and tell myself you need to be out

there giving your heart just because he’s out there giving his,