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Purdue Prepares to Face Nebraska After Win on Day One of Big Ten Tournament

by Mar 7, 2024Nebraska Womens Basketball

Nebraska Cornhusker forward Natalie Potts (22) makes a lay up against Purdue Boilermaker guard Jayla Smith (3) in the first half during a college basketball game on Wednesday, January 31, 2024, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by John S. Peterson.
Photo Credit: John Peterson

Purdue women’s basketball was on the ropes in its first round Big Ten Tournament matchup.

Northwestern, the league’s 13th-place team, led the Boilermakers at halftime, extending that lead to double-digits in the third quarter. Even given the difference of just one spot in the conference standings, it was a surprising development. Purdue had been more competitive in league play and won the lone regular season matchup against Northwestern by 26.

Clearly, that wasn’t the case this time around, but the Boilermakers still found a way to storm back. Guards Abbey Ellis and Rashunda Jones combined for 35 of the team’s 43 second-half points as they retook the lead early in the fourth quarter and held on from there.

Jones, a true freshman, said postgame that the team’s body language was poor as Northwestern got out to its lead, and correction from head coach Katie Gearlds helped right the ship.

“Coach Katie told us, like, we’re hanging our heads like we lost,” Jones said. “If we are going to keep playing like that and acting like that, there’s no chance. So I think that really clicked for us.”

Now, Purdue advances to play 5-seed Nebraska in Thursday’s action. The Boilermakers lost both regular season meetings against the Huskers by double-digits, and Gearlds is aware of the tough task ahead. She heaped praise on the upcoming opponent, including star players Alexis Markowski and Jaz Shelley.

“Markowski is as good as any big in our league. She’s given us fits for two games. Jaz Shelley is elite as elite gets in our league. They’ve got all capable shooters, straight line drivers. They dominate the glass,” she said. “We’ve got to be able to knock down some open shots. We’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of the basketball.”

Ellis also brought up Markowski, and containing the first-team all-conference center will be an even tougher task with sixth-year forward Caitlyn Harper out for the season.

Besides that, it’ll be worth watching how the freshmen perform. The matchup will feature the Big Ten’s two Freshman of the Year honorees at the forward spot, with Natalie Potts (coaches’ selection) on one end and Mary Ashley Stevenson (media pick) on the other. Nebraska’s Logan Nissley made the conference’s all-freshman team, while Jones showed on Wednesday the type of impact she can have.

Jones averages 7.7 points on the season and has produced three 20-point performances, but ended the regular season shooting below 30% in conference play. A 16-point showing in the regular season finale and 19 points against Northwestern might be evidence that she’s getting back on track, though.

“She’s a special kid. She hit some rough spots in Big Ten play this season,” Gearlds said. “She obviously changes the game for us with her speed and her ability to pressure the full court. She’s a fighter. She’s a believer and a big-time gamer, and I hope she’s even more special for everybody tomorrow.”

Nebraska will be expected to win, and the Huskers surely want to avoid a loss in what would be a significant letdown. Gearlds was blunt about the improvements she needs to see from her team in this short turnaround window. Still, Purdue isn’t shying away from the competition ahead.

“Our hands are full, and like Abbey said, we’re playing with house money,” Gearlds said. “We’ve got nothing to lose, so we’ll go out there and fight as hard as we can.”

Other notes from day one

>> Northwestern finishes the season at 9-21, and head coach Joe McKeown brought his team’s three seniors to the postgame press conference. There weren’t many questions for the players, so he gave each the chance to make a short statement.

Paige Mott’s was perhaps most memorable, expressing confidence in the future of the program.

“I know we’re probably not the three you all wanted to talk to, but next year look out for Caileigh Walsh, [Melannie] Daley, Mercy Ademusayo, Alana Goodchild, look out for all of them. They’re going to be eating,” she said.

McKeown showed similar confidence in expressing his excitement for the rest of the Big Ten throughout the week and into the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a great league right now,” he said. “I wish everybody the best the rest of the week. In the NCAA Tournament, I think there’s some teams that are poised to make deep runs. I wish we were one of them, but we’ll be back.”

>> The other game on the conference tourney’s opening day arguably brought even more excitement.

Minnesota, playing in its home state, beat Rutgers behind 32 points, five rebounds and seven assists from Amaya Battle. It’s been a tough end to the season for the Gophers, but the team’s performance was still impressive.

On the other end, Destiny Adams did just about all she could to keep Rutgers within range until the end. She put up 31 points and a Big Ten Tournament record 24 rebounds.

>> Thursday will be the last matchup between Purdue’s Jeanae Terry and Nebraska’s Jaz Shelley.

That’s important to note because the fifth-year players are two of the league’s top passers. In the past three seasons — starting with 2021-22, the year Shelley and Terry both transferred to their current schools — only Caitlin Clark has more assists.

The two are exciting to watch with the ball in their hands in large part of their ability to dish out dimes to teammates, and this note is here to celebrate the last time they’ll face off at the college level.

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