Purdue to face Green Bay after coach’s cancer diagnosis
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Purdue coach Sharon Versyp doesn’t want the focus on her after being diagnosed with early stage breast cancer as the ninth-seeded Boilermakers prepare to face eighth-seeded Green Bay in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
”It’s not about me. It’s about family. It’s about a team,” Versyp said Thursday. ”It’s all about them right now.”
Purdue (22-12) won seven straight before losing 74-64 to Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, a winning streak the Boilermakers needed to earn an NCAA berth. Versyp, who was diagnosed in February, waited until after the Boilermakers were finished with the Big Ten tourney this month to tell her players.
”I didn’t want them worrying or having any other mission than what they deserved,” she said. ”When you hear the word cancer, it’s shocking and everyone gets a little off kilter.”
But she said with a nearly two-week wait for the NCAA Tournament, with the Boilermakers not even sure they would be in, it was time to let the players know. She said even though she told her players her prognosis was good, they still were emotional when they were told and several players were distraught.
”We were all just so emotional and so sad,” junior guard Andreona Keys said. ”We said: `We have your back. We’re going to be here for you 100 percent.”
Versyp said she’s also grateful for all the support she’s received from other coaches and others in the college basketball.
”It’s sad to say, but you find out how many people really care about you when you go through a tough situation,” she said.
Versyp, who underwent surgery two days before the Big Ten Tournament began, said she never considered not coaching during the NCAA Tournament.
”I’m still doing research on what I need to do with doctors,” Versyp said.
Versyp, who grew up in Mishawaka, just east of South Bend, said she’s pleased to be playing at Notre Dame. Whenever she returns to the South Bend area she thinks about her parents, who died before she became head coach at Purdue in 2006.
”I just wish my mom and dad, I know they’re looking down, I wish they could have just seen what their daughter has enjoyed,” she said. ”I feel my mom and dad are with me. That’s all that matters right now in my time of crisis.”
Here are a few more things to watch on opening round in South Bend:
This season marks the seventh time overall, and the sixth time straight, where Notre Dame (30-3) is a top seed. In the previous six games, the Irish have won by an average score of 90-49. The largest margin of victory was 93-42 in 2014 against Robert Morris (22-10), the same team they face in the opener Friday.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw said the key is taking the same approach no matter the opponent.
”We don’t talk about this is the last place team in the ACC or this is a team we should beat. We focus on: `This is what they do. This is what we need to do.’ We set that tone early in the season.”
Robert Morris coach Charlie Buscaglia said he won’t try to use the fact Harvard is the only No. 16 seed to win an opening round game in a win over Stanford in 1998 as motivation.
”I basically call anything like those kinds of things cheap motivation,” he said. ”The real motivation should be you have a group of players, a group of teammates, that you go out on the court with and you are trying to do something special.”
The Purdue-Green Bay game likely won’t be a high scoring affair. The Phoenix (27-5) rank second in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 51 points a game. The Boilermakers led the Big Ten in scoring defense at 58.9 points a game and have held four of their last eight opponents to season lows in points.
The Green Bay roster is made up of players all from Wisconsin, with coach Kevin Borseth saying that is not by design, noting that last year’s squad had two players from Minnesota and another from Ontario and next year will add players from Minnesota and South Dakota.
”It just happened that way,” he said.