When she hit her ninth three-point shot Thursday night, Brittany Rayburn couldn't help but laugh. The Purdue guard was so ridiculously accurate against the Gophers that she became a one-woman rally killer, able to silence the Williams Arena crowd every time she launched one from long distance.
Give her much of the credit for the Boilermakers' 72-55 victory. But the Gophers caused plenty of problems for themselves as they ended a two-game Big Ten winning streak. They ended the first half as cold as Rayburn was hot, failing to make a basket in the final 9 minutes, 2 seconds to create a hole too big to escape.
Rayburn finished with a career-high 38 points, including 12 three-pointers -- tying the NCAA women's record -- on 16 attempts. Every one of her shots came from beyond the arc, and many came when the Gophers were cutting into Purdue leads. When she left the game with 30 seconds remaining, her teammates bowed down before her in awe before celebrating the No. 17 Boilermakers' seventh victory in a row.
"The exaggeration is, you're throwing it into the ocean," said Rayburn, who set a Big Ten record for three-pointers made and doubled her previous career high. "It felt good every time it was coming off. The basket looked huge.
"It seemed easy to shoot. Players kept setting me up left and right and making me wide open, and those are easy shots to hit.''
In the Gophers' 57-53 loss at Purdue two weeks ago, Rayburn had gone 0-for-4 from three-point range and 1-for-10 from the field. She had made only one three-pointer on nine attempts in her previous three games. On Thursday, her teammates kept setting screens that sprung her open on the perimeter, and the Gophers could do nothing to slow her.
Rayburn hit six of eight from beyond the arc in the first half as Purdue built a 35-22 halftime lead. The Gophers clawed back from a 13-4 deficit, fighting the Boilermakers' pressure defense to cut the lead to 18-16 with six minutes, 15 seconds left in the half.
But a layup by Kiara Buford midway through that rally was the Gophers' last field goal of the half. They missed their final nine shots and committed four turnovers through the final 9:02, shooting only 22 percent in the first half.
"They played a very good defensive game," Gophers coach Pam Borton said. "They attacked the basketball off the dribble and made it hard to get into things.
"[Rayburn] just could not miss. We couldn't find an answer for her. We tried switching up defenses a few times, but they kept coming back."
Every time the Gophers rallied, Purdue managed to get Rayburn open to stop them. When they trailed by two late in the first half, Rayburn scored 11 points -- including a trio of three-pointers -- to push the Boilermakers' lead to 13. Her consecutive threes midway in the second half turned a 51-40 lead into a 57-42 margin.
The Gophers made one more run to pull within 57-50 with 5:52 left in the game. While the Purdue defense shut down the Gophers for more than three minutes, Rayburn popped in two more threes to stretch the lead to 65-50 and put the game away.
Someone asked Purdue coach Sharon Versyp after the game whether she needed to put ice on Rayburn's hands. That was the last thing she wanted to do.
"We want to keep them hot for the next couple of games,'' she said. "When players are in a groove, you've just got to get them the ball."