March 19, 2007
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Katie Gearlds finally had her big game at Williams Arena, and the well-rounded Purdue Boilermakers are moving on to a bigger stage.
Gearlds led second-seeded Purdue with 26 points in a 76-63 win over seventh-seeded Georgia Tech in the second round of the NCAA women's NCAA Tournament on Monday night.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Boilermakers (30-5), who will play third-seeded Georgia next Sunday in the Dallas Regional semifinals.
Gearlds, a first team All-Big Ten guard, was in prime form. After totaling 24 points on 10-for-33 shooting in three previous games here against host Minnesota, the senior with the smooth stroke sparked her team to a quick start and Purdue's fourth advancement to the round of 16 in the last five years.
"I really felt like we were right in her face," Yellow Jackets coach MaChelle Joseph said. "She was making shots that were just unbelievable."
The Boilermakers, who allowed an average of less than 54 points per game this season to lead their conference, have much more to offer than Gearlds. They weren't pestered by Georgia Tech's fullcourt press, and in the second half when the game's pace bogged down and the possessions turned sloppy, they had control.
"Stuff like that happens," Gearlds said. "We're going to make mistakes. We did a pretty good job of staying composed."
Freshman point guard FahKara Malone had nine of Purdue's 20 turnovers, but the Boilermakers were just too big, too strong and too experienced for the Yellow Jackets (21-12).
Stephanie Higgs scored 27 points and Janie Mitchell had 16, but they trailed by at least 15 points for a stretch of nearly 29 minutes until a late basket by Higgs.
After watching Georgia Tech beat 10th-seeded DePaul in the first round by one point on a last-second shot by Jacqua Williams for the school's first NCAA Tournament victory, Joseph found herself in a strange, though desirable, spot.
Purdue's all-time leading scorer with 2,405 points, Joseph -- pictured in the Boilermakers media guide with a wild waterfall hairstyle that her players teased her about this weekend -- was suddenly up against her alma mater. On top of that, Purdue's first-year coach, Sharon Versyp, was the player whose success Joseph wanted to match when she arrived on campus in 1988.
Joseph didn't have much fun on the sideline on this night, but she was quite pleased with the way the season went after a 2-12 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference the year before. Higgs and Mitchell were crying at the podium during a postgame interview session, but they had a lot of progress to reflect on this season.
"Of course I would've loved to go to the Sweet 16, but ... I wouldn't have had it any other way my senior year," Higgs said.
The only time Gearlds missed in the first half was an off-balance 3-pointer she tried right before the shot clock buzzed, and the Boilermakers went a staggering 19-for-24 from the field for 79.2 percent. Malone had 10 of her 14 points before the break.
On the other end, the wide-and-long matchup zone defense used by Purdue frequently flustered the Yellow Jackets. The Boilermakers enjoyed a 17-4 run in the middle of the half, a sequence highlighted when Wisdom-Hylton moved out to the corner and blocked Jill Ingram's 3-pointer. Erin Lawless grabbed the ball and sent it ahead to Malone, who swished a 3-pointer from the wing.
Then Malone stole the ball from Ingram, and Gearlds swished another jumper to make it 27-12.
"She expects that of herself, and her teammates expect that of her," Versyp said. "When she gets in a rhythm you've got to give her the ball."