March 19, 2009

Purdue is in some pretty good company when it comes to NCAA tournament appearances.

The sixth-seeded Boilermakers will be appearing in their 16th consecutive NCAA tourney Saturday afternoon in Chattanooga, Tenn., as they take on 11th-seeded Charlotte in the Oklahoma City Regional.

Purdue finished 22-10 this season, losing 67-66 to Ohio State - the No. 3 seed in the Berkeley Regional - in the Big Ten tournament championship game. The Boilermakers had won the past two conference title games to earn an automatic bid to the NCAAs.

An at-large bid this season has them in the field of 64 for the 16th straight year, the nation's fourth-longest active streak behind Tennessee (28), Stanford (22) and Connecticut (21).

"Our players are very excited," coach Sharon Versyp said. "They're very happy and playing really, really hard. All the players know they have to work hard, they know the expectation. The NCAA tournament, it's one-and-done."

Purdue managed to win its opening game last season on its home floor before losing in the second round to eventual national champion Tennessee. The Boilermakers, 17-2 in the first round of the NCAA tournament, have won one national championship (1999) and made three Final Four appearances (1994, 1999 and 2001).

They will be facing Charlotte (23-8) for the first time. The 49ers beat Richmond 59-54 to win their first Atlantic 10 tournament and earn their second trip to the NCAAs.

"I am so happy for our players and our program," Charlotte coach Karen Aston said. "I am pleased with our seeding. I am happy that we are playing Purdue on a neutral court since some teams have to play a team on their home court in the NCAA tournament. Purdue is a talented, well-coached team from a great league."

The Boilermakers are led by senior forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, a first-team All-Big Ten selection who missed the 2007-08 season with a torn ACL. She averaged 13.1 points and set career highs with 9.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.6 steals per game this season.

Wisdom-Hylton may have the best numbers on the team, but point guard FahKara Malone and center Danielle Campbell are just as important for the Boilermakers.

Purdue has won seven of 10 since Malone returned after missing nine games with a dislocated ring finger on her right hand.

"That was really the key," Versyp said. "To be able to have her back is important. She's a leader, a communicator, and she knows exactly what to run."

Campbell averages 8.6 points and is second on the team behind Wisdom-Hylton with 7.3 rebounds per game.

"Everybody pays so much attention to Lindsay, double-teaming and triple-teaming her, that we need for Danielle to be able to score down low one-on-one and to hit that 15 footer to take pressure off," Versyp said.

Malone will face a tough task in going against Charlotte guards Aysha Jones and Shannon McCallum. Jones leads the 49ers with 13.5 points per game, while McCallum was named the conference's sixth player of the year after posting 12.5 points and 6.0 rebounds a contest.

Danielle Burgin, averaging career highs of 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds, is the top inside player for Charlotte, which made its first NCAA tournament appearance in 2003.

"I had the privilege this year, to coach a group of young women that set a goal back in October, and on a daily basis, paid the price to achieve that goal," Aston said. "The common goal was always more important than their personal goals. The chemistry that this team has and the moments we have all shared will stay with us forever."