When the Purdue women’s basketball team opens its holiday tournament on Thanksgiving Day it will face a West Virginia team that ranks No. 1 in scoring defense.
And get this: The Boilermakers at 4-1 on the season have the worst record among the four teams competing in the St. Pete Showcase. Teams include No. 22 West Virginia (3-0), Florida State (4-0) and BYU (4-0).
Each of those teams ranks among the best in the NCAA in one category or another, except Purdue. While the Boilermakers 5 p.m., Thursday opponent is ranked No. 22 by AP, it’s also No. 23 in this week’s Coaches Poll in addition to statistically being the best defensive team in the nation. Florida State, meanwhile, is No. 9 in defensive scoring by giving up 46.0 points per game. It is also No. 23 in the Coaches Poll. And BYU has the nation’s top rebounder in 6-1 sophomore forward Lauren Gustin who averages 13.5 rebounds per game.
First up for Purdue is West Virginia. In three wins, the Mountaineers have given up 50 points (St. Francis, Pennsylvania), 58 points (Kennesaw State) and 31 points (Radford).
The Mountaineers’ defensive prowess is nothing new. Last year when they had a 22-7 record, they gave up an average of 65.9 points per game while scoring 72.3 per game. They entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed and eventually lost to No. 5 seed Georgia Tech.
For Purdue coach Katie Gearlds, things have to be amped up going into a demanding portion of the non-conference schedule.
After West Virginia, the Boilers will play the winner or loser of the Florida State/BYU matchup at either 11 a.m. (two losers from the first round) or 1 p.m. on Saturday (two winners).
“Everything needs to be kicked up a notch, but not because of the stretch we are going into but because we have to get better at everything that we’re trying to do every day,” Gearlds said after the Marshall win on Monday night. “We can’t waste days – even in the games we’ve got to continue to get better. (Monday) was not very pretty, but at the end it says Purdue 70 and Marshall 60 and we’ll take it.”
Thus far this season, West Virginia has three players averaging in double figures led by 5-8 junior guard KK Deans. She is scoring 15.3 points per game by shooting 45.5 percent from the field – including 3 of 10 from 3-point range – and 100 percent from the line (13 of 13). She is second on the team in assists (10 in four games) and first with steals (nine thus far).
Second in scoring is 6-2 junior forward Esmery Martinez at 14.7 per game. She is the top rebounder on the season, averaging 8.7 boards a game. The final double-digit scorer is 5-10 senior guard Jasmine Carson at 10.3 points per game.
Mike Carey is the head coach now in his 21st season. The West Virginia native played college ball at Salem International University. He is 435-223 in his Mountaineer career and 723-325 overall. Before coaching West Virginia, he coached at his alma mater, Salem, which is a small private university in Salem, West Virginia that plays at Division II and has less than 1,000 students.
Purdue also has three players averaging in double figures. Ra Shaya Kyle, 6-6 sophomore center, leads the way scoring 14.4 points per game. Next in scoring is 5-6 junior guard Abbey Ellis (13.8 points per game) followed by 6-1 sophomore guard Madison Layden (13.6 ppg).
After West Virginia and/or Florida State/BYU, the Boilers will face Georgia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge before entering a two-game set opening the Big Ten season home to Ohio State and at Maryland.
“I’m excited to get on the road with this group and for us to spend some quality time together,” Gearlds said. “We’re still getting to know each other, they’re still trying to get to know me (and) I’m still getting to know them. For us to play against West Virginia is our first opponent and that’s going to be our focus. The stretch is here and we’re grateful to be 4-1, but we are nowhere near where we want to be.”
The St. Pete Showcase games will be televised by FloHoops, a subscription-based broadcast provider.