It seemed Purdue couldn’t do anything wrong, and in crunch time, Rutgers struggled to do anything right.
The sixth-seeded Boilermakers shot nearly 53 percent from the field while seventh-seeded Rutgers committed two costly turnovers in the final minute to waste a rally from 16 down in a 67-61 loss to Purdue on Sunday night at the Ford Center.
Purdue advances to Tuesday night’s regional finals against Oklahoma for a berth in its fourth Final Four.
The Boilermakers (25-10) got 18 from Lakisha Freeman and 15 from Jodi Howell — her most in nearly two months — but it was an unexpected jump shot from FahKara Malone that clinched it. The 5-foot-3 point guard hit a 15-foot, fadeaway jumper as the shot clock expired with 49 seconds to play.
"It’s tournament time,” said Purdue forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. "When you’re feeling it ... she had some key buckets down the stretch.
"We’re playing well as a team right now.”
Purdue’s lead peaked at 16 late in the first half and was 13 with less than nine minutes remaining.
Rutgers cut the score to 63-61 with 1:45 left but committed consecutive turnovers with an errant pass and a traveling violation, allowing Purdue to close it out.
The hot-shooting Boilermakers will give themselves a chance at a surprising Final Four run if they continue to get balanced offense like they did Sunday.
"We just have a lot of confidence right now,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said. "It’s a mindset right now. Everybody is physically gifted when you get to this point. Right now, it’s mental toughness.
"Now we have it.”