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REGION: West SEED: 2
COACH: Kristy Curry CONFERENCE: Big Ten
Road to the Final Four ...................................................................................
Purdue is a small team, but the Boilers also are very quick, which allows them to switch players on defense 1 through 4 very easily without losing anything. But while Purdue is well-coached and really gets after you defensively, the Boilers' Achilles' heel has been scoring. Shereka Wright, who just doesn't get the national attention she deserves, needs more than 10-12 shots per game. She needs more attempts, maybe 18-20 a game like her Big Ten counterpart Kelly Mazzante.
|PLAYER TO WATCH|
Wright stuff. Just Wright. All the Wright moves. Price is Wright. All Wright. Yuck. Enough already with the puns. Just watch the kid for half a game and you'll be hooked. We did, four years ago, and haven't been able to stop talking about the 5-foot-10 senior forward since. Best known as a slasher, Wright's first step is more explosive than Howard Stern's mouth. She's also very good at getting to the foul line, and it was her last-second free throws that lifted Purdue past then-No. 5 Penn State in the Big Ten final. Speaking of league play, Wright led the Big Ten in scoring in conference games (21.4 points), and has scored at least 20 points in 15 outings this season, including a season-high 34 points on Feb. 10. Now, enough of this "honorable mention" Kodak All-America stuff. Voters, if you're reading, do the, er, Wright thing and officially make Wright one of the top 10 players in the country like her Big Ten counterparts Kelly Mazzante and Lindsay Whalen.
ANALYSIS BY ESPN'S STACEY DALES-SCHUMAN
Coach Kristy Curry is ecstatic with this year's Boilermaker squad. With four significant seniors, they have plowed through a taxing Big Ten season, leading nearly every step of the way and then finally beating Penn State -- which beat Purdue twice in the regular season -- in the Big Ten final.
Due to the team's veteran status, it is no surprise that some of Purdue's best basketball has come behind enemy lines. Traveling into foreign venues, and winning, at such places as Houston, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State is no easy task. But that's exactly what Curry & Co. have done this season.
Shereka Wright has been fantastic and should harvest Kodak All-American honors this season. While spending the most of her Purdue days as a slasher, she has evolved this year into a more well-rounded player. Quite simply, she has found a shooting game that has further allowed her to make crunch plays.
Although Wright has found increased national recognition this season for her on-court heroics, this group of women is all about "team." Though not graced with incredible size, the Boilermakers simply get along well together, both on and off the court. Case in point, freshman Katie Gearlds. As the second-leading scorer on the roster, Gearlds has received rave reviews from the media, and more importantly, her peers. There is no jealousy, there is no spite. There is only appreciation for the fact that Gearlds has helped make Purdue a contender with her scoring versatility.
While senior point guard Erika Valek hasn't had to be as big of a scoring factor since Gearlds' emergence, Valek has continued to manufacture the leadership required for Purdue to win games. Watch for Valek to step up in the scoring department come tourney time -- she is a feisty warrior who hates to lose.
Also watch for senior bomber Beth Jones to pick up her play in the tournament. If she hits one trey, a domino effect could very easily ensue, causing nightmares for the opponent.
Purdue's leadership must stand tall in tournament play. Watch for the Boilermakers to execute full-court pressure, switch screens in their player-to-player defense and toss in a 2-3 zone every so often to stir the opposition. Offensively, understand that Purdue loves competing against player-to-player defense because the Boilers have such talented one-on-one athletes such as Wright who can make plays. Because Purdue excels against this type of defense, watch for tournament foes to execute zone defense to try and slow down the Boilermakers' strong motion playmaking ability.