Sunday, March 4, 2012

From Europe to Indy: Purdue's Title a True Journey

The Purdue women’s basketball team’s quest for a Big Ten title ended Sunday as they hoped, with a win in the conference’s tournament championship game.  But, it started months ago halfway around the world.
The Boilermakers beat 24th-ranked Nebraska, 74-70, in double overtime to win their 8th tournament crown in 15 seasons.  It was just as they pictured when they envisioned the moment last summer thousands of miles away.
“We sat down by a river in Europe, I still remember the moment, and we talked about goals and this was one of our goals,” said guard Courtney Moses.  “We are living the dream right now.”
The Boilermakers dream was set during their eleven day European tour in August when they played games in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria.   It came true because of three days of complete team basketball. 
In their Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal win over Michigan State, Brittany Rayburn carried the Boilers with 29-points.  The next night, Moses’ 21 points and Antionette Howard’s career-high 13 rebounds sparked them past top-seeded Penn State, with help from a last second game winning shot by Rayburn. 
Sunday, it seemed like every Boilermaker did their part to secure the trophy. 
“We definitely had some issues with some of their perimeter kids,” said Nebraska head coach Connie Yori.  “We did a good job on Moses and Rayburn, but they’ve got good players, KK (Houser) is a good player.  (Chantel) Poston is a good player.  Howard is a good player.  They’ve got good players.  They’ve got a lot of kids who can score the ball.”
Poston had a double-double (11pts, 10 rebs), as well as five blocks and hit a critical late free throw with three seconds left to give Purdue a two possession lead.  Moses scored eight.  Alex Guyton scored seven. Chelsea Jones had two key blocks.  Sam Ostarello grabbed ten rebounds.  The Boilermakers’ performance defined team play.
“There were never moments in the game where we were like ‘we are going to lose.’ We were always, always thinking positive, always going to win that game,” said Ostarello.
Purdue’s best game came on the biggest stage and KK Houser shined brightest.  She had her finest 40-minutes of the weekend against Nebraska with 19-points and five steals.  Most importantly, the redshirt sophomore point guard had no turnovers, after eight in the first two games.
“I just came in to today thinking that, we have six seniors that I have to play for, we deserve this,” said Houser.  “I just played hard and thought nothing of my turnovers.”
Houser’s performance earned her a spot on the All-Tournament Team.  Her teammate, and one of the seniors she played so hard for, Brittany Rayburn, also made the All-Tournament team and earned the Most Valuable Player award.
Without the play of the Attica native, it’s unlikely the Boilermakers would have even been in Sunday’s title game.   Like she’s done throughout her illustrious career at Purdue, Rayburn made critical plays at critical moments in the team’s wins over Michigan State and Penn State.
Against Nebraska she struggled, scoring nine points, which is six below her season average, and made just one field goal.  But, Rayburn points to that as one of the reason this Purdue team is special.  When one player has an off night, someone else is there to step up.
“We have a very, very deep team.  Anybody on any day can go off,” she said.  “We’re all very unselfish people.  When somebody is on, we get it back to them.  KK (Houser) was on tonight.  It was great we needed it.  And I think it obviously shows what a great all around team that we have.”
The team first mentality was planted sitting near a river in Europe, but blossomed as the season progressed. 
Whether it was a season ending injury to their captain Drey Mingo, tough back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Central Michigan in December, or overtime losses to Nebraska and Michigan State in February, this group of Boilermakers stuck together and stayed focused on one of their primary goals set overseas in August.
“We were in Europe and coach (Sharon Versyp) sat us down right before we were about to leave.  We were all in a circle and we went down and said what we wanted to accomplish by each milestone and right now we’ve accomplished the Big Ten Tournament, and that was one of our goals. I am so glad we got to it,” said sophomore guard Dee Dee Williams. 
“It’s been a long road.  We’ve had sicknesses.  We’ve had injuries.  This, that. I feel like this team has just been through so much adversity.  I feel like that has really helped us get to where we are now.  We stuck together and we are here and we did it.”
From a river in Europe to a title in Indianapolis, the Boilermakers are living their dream and are now champions.

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