You have to appreciate the candor, the dark humor and the tenacity that Indiana women’s basketball coach Curt Miller has displayed in his inaugural season in Bloomington.
For all of the give-and-take and the cutting one-liners about the challenges of guiding a rebuilding team through year one, there has been one cliche that Miller has floated and recycled after nearly every game this season — that it’s not about wins and losses right now.
Except for Wednesday.
“It’s Purdue, right?” Miller said rhetorically when asked if this mantra held true in the wake of a 62-61 upset of the No. 22 Boilermakers at Assembly Hall. “It’s always the exception with Purdue. It’s a great rivalry and it’s going to continue to be a great rivalry.”
Miller, who coached Bowling Green for 11 seasons before moving to Bloomington, also joked about staying undefeated against Purdue coach Sharon Versyp with Wednesday’s win. Versyp coached the Hoosiers for the 2005-06 season before jumping to Purdue.
“I get to brag now that I’m 2-0 against coach Versyp in this building,” Miller cracked. “Last time she had on the nice colors — the cream and crimson — but now it’s nice to beat her when she’s got the different colors on.”
Wednesday’s victory is, without question, the first signature win of the Miller era. A series split against a natural rival in his first season in Bloomington is nothing to scoff at it. The Hoosiers competed well in the Jan. 31 meeting in West Lafayette before losing control late in the second half. The big takeaway from that game was Indiana’s ability to completely shut down Purdue stars Courtney Moses and Drey Mingo, who combined for three points on 1-for-18 shooting. The Boilers’ duo fared a bit better on Wednesday, teaming for 21 points, but both were held below their season averages.
Moses and Mingo were under blanket coverage, which opened things up for Dee Dee Williams. That’s precisely what Miller wanted. He was daring Williams, who averages little more than 3.4 points per game, to shoot. She tossed up a team-high 11 shots, hitting four of them.
“There’s a reason why some people are open, and there’s a reason why some others aren’t,” Miller said. “That goes for us, too. There’s a reason why — ‘Coach, I was open.’ Well, there’s a reason why you’re open. They have such talented players that you have to pick your poison. We’d rather have Dee Dee Williams have a career game than some of their All-American type kids.”
Miller was also pleased with the way his team played responsibly with the ball. The error-prone Hoosiers turned it over only 13 times on Wednesday and went into halftime with a 34-31 lead. The last time they held the advantage at the intermission was on Jan. 6 against Northwestern. They won that game, too.
“Tonight the kids made more contested shots than they have all year,” Miller said. “That’s what it’s all about. Not every shot is going to be wide open. Tonight, especially early, we made some contested shots and that gave our kids some confidence. We just battled. We talked about missing shots is better than turning the ball over because they can run you so well off turnovers. To have only five turnovers at halftime against that kind of wing pressure and ball pressure was great. We didn’t give them a ton of run-outs off turnovers.”
Here are a couple extra nuggets to digest in the wake of the big win:
• The win over Purdue marked IU’s first win over a ranked opponent since Dec. 5, 2010, when the Hoosiers topped No. 24/19 Nebraska in Assembly Hall, 67-61.
• IU defeated Purdue for the first time since Jan. 19, 2009, when the Hoosiers defeated the Boilermakers, 71-57.
• The victory gives Miller his first win over a ranked opponent since taking over the helm of the Hoosiers program.
• Indiana outrebounded Purdue, 35-33, marking the 10th time this year that IU has outrebounded its opponent. The Hoosiers are 8-2 in those contests.
• McGhee scored 26 points, shooting 11-of-17 from the field including a pair of 3-point field goals. McGhee also added four rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist. She has scored in double figures in 30 career games, including 16 times this year. McGhee has scored 20 or more points in three games this season.
• Aulani Sinclair scored in double figures for the 18th time this season with 16 points. She shot 6-of-11 from the floor and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Sinclair has hit three or more 3-point field goals 11 times this year and has scored 10 or more points in 50 career games.
• Sinclair still sits at 20th on IU’s all-time career scoring list as she now has tallied 1,090 career points. She is just nine points shy of Tatjana Vesel (1994-97) for 19th place on the list.
• With her three 3-point field goals, Sinclair is now tied for third in program history for most 3-point field goals made in a career with 174. Sinclair passed Cyndi Valentin’s (2003-06) 172 career 3-pointers made and is now tied with Heather Cassady (1999-02). Sinclair is also tied for fifth on IU’s single season list for 3-point field goals made with 63.
• Sasha Chaplin scored in double figures for the fourth time this year and 29th time in her career. Chaplin finished with 10 points, shooting 3-of-5 from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line. She also added four boards and two assists.
• Milika Taufa grabbed 10 boards in the game, marking the third time this year that she has had 10 or more rebounds in a game.