Depth is key in Purdue series

Murali Balaji

At his weekly press conference, Gophers coach Clem Haskins was told by a reporter that Purdue coach Gene Keady was upset about playing back-to-back games against Minnesota.
“Well, I guess I’d better leave now and make myself mad,” Haskins quipped.
All kidding aside, the Gophers (15-8, 6-7 Big Ten) will be playing a fired up and hungry Boilermaker team.
Purdue (18-9, 6-7) is fighting for an NCAA tournament spot with the Gophers, meaning tonight’s game at West Lafayette and Thursday’s game at Williams Arena will have profound postseason implications for both teams.
Minnesota is coming off its first conference road victory against Penn State last week, while the Boilermakers are reeling from back-to-back losses against Michigan State and Penn State.
After Sunday’s 78-70 loss to the Lions, Purdue guard Jaraan Cornell said his team lacked the sense of urgency that it needs heading into the postseason. His assertion was echoed by a statement made by Keady earlier in the season that the team “lacked heart and a desire to win.”
“I sensed it before the (Penn State) game, stretching, I thought there was something missing,” Cornell said. “I don’t know what it was. I said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to come out and play focused,’ and that’s just how it was.”
Minnesota would be wise not to expect the same lackadaisical effort from the Boilermakers. Haskins said a consistent level of intensity is the key to beating the Boilermakers.
“We need our guys to come in and play the full 40 minutes of basketball,” Haskins said. “A team like Purdue will always keep you focused and ready to play.”
This is the first time in Haskins’ tenure that his team will have to play the same opponent consecutively. The uniqueness and rarity of the situation hasn’t been overlooked by either coach.
“It’s going to be difficult to play the same opponent back-to-back,” Haskins said. “We want to be as focused and execute as much as possible, especially on the road at Purdue.”
“This is a quality Minnesota team we’re facing, one that is capable of beating any team in the Big Ten,” Keady said. “To play them back-to-back is going to be really tough on our guys, as far as maintaining a level of intensity.”
Gophers’ guard Kevin Clark, who was noticeably hindered last week in the aftermath of heavy seizures, is expected to play this week. The presence of Clark will be crucial for the Gophers, especially in defending against Cornell, Purdue’s leading scorer.
“Kevin Clark is doing OK,” Haskins said. “He’s not 100 percent, and probably won’t be 100 percent all year, but he’ll be back.”
Forward Quincy Lewis, who has cemented himself as a top candidate for the conference player-of-the year award, will match up with Purdue forward Brian Cardinal. Cardinal, whose overall production has slipped this year, is still a legitimate threat from the outside, averaging 31 percent from beyond the arc.
But while the play of Clark, Lewis, Cornell and Cardinal will be grabbing the headlines, the games could be decided by the effectiveness of each team’s bench. With Purdue’s bench led by junior forward Greg McQuay (11 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), Haskins will be counting on the play of reserves Kyle Sanden, Mitch Ohnstad and Dusty Rychart.
“We need some quality minutes for our bench,” Haskins said. “We’ve had some outstanding play from Dusty Rychart these last few games.”