Purdue has already made one impressive tournament run this
season, and it will try to begin another Sunday in Louisville.
The fourth-seeded Boilermakers take on No. 13 seed Liberty in
the first round of the NCAA tournament, with the winner potentially
facing host Louisville on Tuesday.
Ranked No. 21 in the AP poll, Purdue (24-8) is coming off a Big
Ten tournament in which it won each game by at least 12 points in
grabbing a second straight championship. The Boilermakers had a
much easier time than last season, when they beat Nebraska in
double overtime in the final.
They followed the 2012 conference tournament title by winning
the program’s 15th straight first-round NCAA game, but lost the
next one to South Carolina. The 1999 national champions will be
looking to make a deeper run this season.
“I feel like playing in the Big Ten, we’ve been prepared all
year,” Purdue senior forward Drey Mingo said. “We know they’re
going to come in and be really physical with us. We’ve been
preparing for that.”
Liberty, which leads the nation in rebounding differential at
plus-17.5 per game, has become an NCAA regular in its 15th
appearance. This will be the first time the Lady Flames (27-6) have
played a Big Ten team since 2005, when as a No. 13 seed they upset
Penn State en route to the regional semifinals.
This season’s team has won 14 straight, rolling to Big South
regular-season and tournament titles. The Lady Flames have plenty
of size, with coach Carey Green bringing 6-foot-5 Katelyn Adams and
6-4 Ashley Rininger off the bench.
Both teams are expecting a grinding game.
“We’re ready to push back,” said Tolu Omotola, Liberty’s 6-3
senior post player and second-leading scorer at 13.3 points per
Senior Devon Brown leads the team with 16.3 points per contest,
and has totaled 40 in two career games in the NCAA tournament. She
is 20 points shy of 2,000 for her career.
Purdue also likes to play offense, and the Boilermakers do it
well. They rank 27th nationally at 43.4 percent from the field and
10th at 77.3 percent from the free-throw line.
Courtney Moses leads the way in averaging 13.3 points, with
Mingo close behind at 12.6. Senior Sam Ostarello figures to be key
on the glass, and she’s nearly averaging a double-double with 9.7
points and 9.8 boards.
Along with rebounding, Liberty plays stingy defense, pressing at
times along with plenty of zone.
“We’ve just to be in that attack mode,” Purdue coach Sharon
Versyp said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. We can’t just
settle for outside shots.”