Andrew Erickson The Columbus Dispatch
Purdue women’s basketball flew under the radar to start the Big Ten season.
Losing to teams like Ball State and Ohio in non conference play will do that.
The Boilermakers also started their Big Ten season off with losses to Rutgers and Indiana but have since become the conference’s giant killers.
Purdue (17-10, 8-5 Big Ten) enters a Sunday game at No. 16 Ohio State (21-6, 10-3) having built a trend the Buckeyes should find scary. The Boilermakers have played four games against ranked opponents this season and have won all four.
Their most recent win is perhaps their most impressive. Tied 65-65 with 2:17 to play at No. 10 Maryland on Thursday, Purdue finished on a 10-0 run to pull off the upset.
“Purdue’s great. They’re coming off obviously a huge win last (Thursday). They seem to get up for the biggest games,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “They beat us last year in the Big Ten Tournament and they’re really stingy defensively and they really make you work on that end of the floor. I know we’ll have a real challenge. They’re going to be ready to go and we’re gonna have to play really well.”
The RPI-boosting win came after back-to-back home losses to Minnesota and Indiana. But the Boilermakers have shown stretches of suffocating defense this season. Four of their eight Big Ten wins have featured an opponent scoring 60 or fewer points.
“They play a great zone. They don’t give you anything easy and they really try to keep the ball away from the basket and make you score from the perimeter and so if you’re a little off there they can make it really tough on you,” McGuff said. “They’re very disciplined and deliberate on offense and that usually gets you pretty good shots.”
Purdue showed that stinginess in each of its last two games against Ohio State. In the Big Ten Tournament semifinals last season, they held the Buckeyes to just 60 points in an upset. Earlier in the season, Ohio State won 61-56 in West Lafayette, Indiana but only after overcoming a 20-6 deficit.
Ohio State still has one more Big Ten home game remaining after Sunday — Wednesday against Northwestern — but scheduled senior day for its final weekend home game.
Kelsey Mitchell, Stephanie Mavunga, Asia Doss, Linnae Harper and Alexa Hart are all expected to take part in the pre-game senior day activities.
Mitchell, Doss and Hart have been a part of the Ohio State program since the 2014-15 season, McGuff’s second in Columbus.
“It’s crazy. I can’t believe how fast it’s been. I remember all of them coming in as freshmen and then all of a sudden they’re senior, but that’s what happens,” he said. “You get great players and great kids and it seems to go fast. It’s the ones that maybe aren’t the ones you necessarily want that seem like they’re here forever.”
It’s unclear at this point whether redshirt juniors Makayla Waterman and Sierra Calhoun will be with the team as graduate students next season, but neither is expected to participate in senior day.
“I don’t think they are,” McGuff said. “It’s not 100 percent on what that’ll look like moving forward but obviously both are on track to graduate.”
As Mitchell, currently No. 4 on the NCAA Division I career scoring list, puts the finishing touches on a prolific Ohio State career, McGuff on Friday thought back to another high-scoring guard.
McGuff left Washington for Ohio State after the 2012-13 season, but not before he helped recruit La Jolla (California) Day product Kelsey Plum, who became the NCAA Division I career scoring leader during her Washington career.
“I’ve got an eye for talent,” McGuff said with a laugh. “No, if you couldn’t watch those two players in high school and know that they were going to be special, then you don’t know what you’re doing.”
He drew a few comparisons between the two guards.
“They’re probably more similar than they are different,” McGuff said. “One of the key characteristics is they’re both incredibly competitive and they’re both very hard on themselves, relentless workers and just what you would imagine would have to come with being that great. They both got better each year, so like I said, they’re similar. They’re very, very similar.”
Asked jokingly if he’s found any other left-handed guards named Kelsey on the recruiting trail, McGuff said: “I’m looking. I’m looking everywhere, but I haven’t found anybody yet.”
With a win Sunday, it would make a clean 100 for Ohio State in the Kelsey Mitchell era.
That three and a half year run has already included five NCAA Tournament wins and a Big Ten regular-season championship. A Final Four in Columbus this year has drawn plenty of talk about fitting endings, but McGuff said he thinks much of the Mitchell legacy at Ohio State has already been etched in stone.
“I think regardless of what happens, she really changed where Ohio State was to where it is now,” McGuff said of Mitchell. “We’re hopeful that we can finish up strong and do something really special in March, but regardless of how it goes she will have left an amazing mark on this program.”
In an interview with The Dispatch on Friday, Mitchell was asked about the isolation of professional basketball and said, “I’m scared to think about that.
“I was in Tokyo (for the Four Nations Tournament with the Under-23 national team) and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is scary,’” she said. “If I want to do this and I want to do that, I’m going to have to make some sacrifices. I was trying to think about that as much as possible without thinking negative.”
Mitchell continued: “You’ve got to dig deep to not show how down and out you are. … It was good to see you weren’t the only one, but you didn’t want to seem like the weak one either.”
Mitchell reflected some on the summer before her freshman year at Ohio State, when Ohio State was not highly regarded as a program after a pair of down seasons and the Buckeyes were a true underdog. Today, the Buckeyes are frontrunners with Maryland and always at risk of an upset against an opponent’s best.
Asked if the end of her college career has approached quickly, Mitchell said, “To be continued. I’ll have to let you know. It’s going to hit you. We’ll see.”