Houser leads Purdue past Nebraska in Big Ten finalBy CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer Sunday, Mar 4, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—At least for now, KK Houser’s decision to play for Purdue has been validated.
Houser scored 19 points to help the No. 21 Boilermakers defeat No. 24 Nebraska 74-70 in two overtimes in the Big Ten tournament final on Sunday. The guard from Lincoln, Neb., also had five steals against her hometown team.
Houser said the win was especially important to her personally after some of the negative feedback she received when she chose to head out of state.
“It’s nice to beat them just because I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I made the wrong choice coming to Purdue,” she said. “Nebraska’s a great school, but I came to Purdue for a reason.”
Houser had five points and five turnovers in the semifinal win over Penn State on Saturday, but Purdue coach Sharon Versyp remained confident in her.
“We just talked that it was her turn,” Versyp said. “We all played great — defense, team defense, sharing the basketball—but certain players stepped up each game. We said, you’re going to be the one that steps up and carry us through the day and she absolutely did that.”
Purdue’s Brittany Rayburn, who scored nine points and hit the game winner in the semifinal victory against Penn State, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Rayburn won the award, but she said Houser was the key.
“She determined the game in every game that we played (in the tournament),” Rayburn said. “She’s constantly guarding their best offensive player. Whenever we put her on somebody she locks them down and makes it her job to help the team in any way that she can.”
Chantel Poston had 10 points and 11 rebounds and Sam Ostarello added eight points and 10 rebounds for the fourth-seeded Boilermakers (24-8), who won the tournament for the eighth time in 17 years.
Lindsey Moore scored 27 points and Jordan Hooper added 25 for Nebraska (24-8). The Cornhuskers had lost four of six heading into the tournament, but they averaged 82 points in their three wins to reach the final.
The Cornhuskers were trying to become the first team to win the tournament with four victories in four days. The Big Ten newcomers were also seeking their first tournament title of any kind in their new league.
The intense matchups between Purdue and Nebraska have had the makings of a new rivalry. Nebraska won the regular-season game 93-89 in triple overtime in West Lafayette.
This time, Nebraska didn’t have the legs.
“I thought our kids fought really hard,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “Playing 50 minutes after already having played three games previously—it’s a credit to them.”
Purdue outrebounded Nebraska 51-40.
“They’re a more physical team than us, and pound for pound, they’re a bigger team than us,” Yori said. “We have to get stronger. That’s one of the things that we have to do. We have to get in the weight room.”
Purdue led 73-70 in the closing seconds of the second overtime and Nebraska had a chance to tie, but Moore missed everything on an off-balance fadeaway 3-pointer that Poston rebounded. Poston made the second of two free throws to clinch the win for the Boilermakers.
“I should have taken it to the hoop with that much time,” Moore said. “I shouldn’t have forced the shot.”
Yori blamed herself.
“We should have called a timeout,” she said. “I’ve also seen Lindsey hit that shot too. It’s not like I haven’t seen her make miraculous shots. Anyway, I should have called a timeout.”
Purdue dominated for much of the first half and led by 11 at one point, but Moore made an underhanded, off-balance bucket in the closing seconds of the first half to tie the score at 27 at the break. Hooper had 12 points and five rebounds at halftime for Nebraska while Houser had nine points at halftime for Purdue. Rayburn scored just two points in the first half and played just eight minutes because of foul trouble.
A pair of free throws by Houser put the Boilermakers up 47-41 with just more than 7 minutes to play. A steal and reverse layup by Houser made it 49-43, and another steal by Houser led to a bucket by Ostarello and pushed the lead to eight.
Nebraska wasn’t ready to concede. Hooper and Moore made 3-pointers to cut Purdue’s lead to 53-51 with 1:45 remaining.
Houser came back with a 3, then Nebraska’s Emily Cady swished a 3 to trim Purdue’s lead to 56-54 with 51 seconds to play.
Rayburn fouled Moore with 28.5 seconds remaining, and Moore made both free throws to tie the score.
With the score tied at 56 in the final seconds, Moses drove to the hoop, but Hooper blocked her shot and got the rebound, giving the Huskers 1.3 seconds. Hooper missed a desperation shot, forcing overtime.
In the first overtime, Nebraska’s Kaitlyn Burke missed an open 3-pointer with 5 seconds left and the score tied. Moses’ heave from near halfcourt was blocked at the buzzer, forcing the fifth overtime period between the teams this season.
In the end, Purdue’s depth and Nebraska’s wear and tear decided the game. Purdue’s bench outscored Nebraska’s 26-2.
“When we’re at our best, we have players stepping up left and right to help each other, and I think that’s huge,” Versyp said. “We’re a true team. We don’t talk about individuals, you don’t just see one face everywhere.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap
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