Utah faces more than a home-court disadvantage in the NCAA women's tournament on Sunday at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. The Utes are also taking on a winning tradition in Purdue.
Though the Boilermakers are just 18-14 this season, they've overcome key injuries to win their second consecutive Big Ten Conference tournament title.
The championship is the program's seventh and the latest addition to a run of success that includes a national championship in 1999 and a second-place NCAA tourney finish in 2001.
When Purdue faces 17th-ranked Utah this weekend, it'll mark the 15th consecutive year the Boilermakers have participated in the Big Dance.
In 2007, they reached the Elite Eight (losing to North Carolina) and finished 31-6 overall.
Heavy graduation losses were followed by injuries that sidelined two returning starters forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and guard Jodi Howell for the entire 2007-08 campaign.
Wisdom-Hylton averaged 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds as a junior. However, she had ACL surgery in August after injuring her knee while playing for USA Basketball in the U-21 championships in Moscow. Howell, who is a former Indiana Miss Basketball, averaged 6.8 points per game as a sophomore. Her junior season has been delayed by a shoulder injury.
The redshirts forced Purdue coach Sharon Versyp to find other solutions.
Two sophomores and a junior stepped up and got the job done. Youngsters Danielle Campbell (12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game) and point guard FahKara Malone (9.9 points and 3.6 assists) teamed with Lakisha Freeman's 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds to provide the Boilermakers with some much-needed stability.
Utah coach Elaine Elliott said they're an athletic squad.
"Purdue is strong in the paint, and they are a good rebounding team," noted Elliott. "They can score in transition because sometimes they struggle with the half-court game."
After opening the season with a 2-4 record, Purdue managed to even its non-conference mark at 7-7 despite an embarrassing 100-50 setback at home to Connecticut on Jan. 6.
The Boilermakers went 11-7 in conference play, then took home the tournament crown by knocking off Indiana, Iowa and Illinois."They're a young team, and like any young team at this level, we think that they are better right now than they have been at any point this season," said Elliott.
Utes on the air
NCAA women's tournament
Utah (27-4) at Purdue (18-14)
Sunday, 5:07 p.m. (MDT)
E-mail: [email protected]