In response to the opening question about whether Mary Jo Noon would be a force in the closing weeks of the campaign, Curry said that consistency is the center’s goal, and that Noon is developing a sense of “senior urgency”. After playing hard in the Boilers’ February 16 victory over Illinois, Mary Jo was “tired for the first time this season”. Noon’s 21-point, 7-rebound performance versus the Fighting Illini would not have been as likely had the “Champaign Ladies” (my term, not hers) not lost post player Iveta Marcauskaite before the season. Without the 6’4” Lithuanian opposing her, Mary Jo had more confidence than she would have otherwise displayed against Theresa Grentz’s club. Although the Boilers’ sweep of the season series means Purdue has now won its last 10 tilts against the Illini, Curry reminded the audience that the Old Gold and Black has enjoyed similar dominance against several other Big Ten programs of late.
When asked how she dealt with West Lafayette’s winter weather, long-time Louisianan Curry said that it’s easier to cope now that she has learned how to drive in snow, as well as how to “bundle up”. As for her pre-game preparation once she arrives at the arena, Kristy reviews the game plan “one last time” with her charges. After everybody else has left the locker room, the head coach gets her thoughts together and prays. She suggested that a little more divine intervention than normal would be appreciated during the coming week, as Michigan State and Ohio State are the “two top defensive teams in the conference”. Both favor “ugly zones”. Since the Spartans and Buckeyes can both make adjustments during games, Purdue would likely have to adapt its game plan on the fly in both contests. Against Michigan State, the keys to victory would be containing freshmen Lindsay Bowen and Liz Shimek, as well as stopping Kristin Haynie’s penetration and preventing the guard from controlling the tempo by “walking the ball up the court for 39 minutes”. Although the Spartans’ success in the face of their limited depth proves that a rotation of “seven isn’t so bad if you can keep healthy”, it would be incumbent on Purdue to attempt to take advantage of its longer bench by forcing a tempo speedier than the one MSU would prefer. If successful, the Boilers would atone for last month’s loss in East Lansing, which Curry termed her squad’s “worst conference game of the season” to date.
Curry said that the Boilers’ freshmen are making progress. She has been demanding of the youngsters, who responded well in the Illinois game. Although starters’ foul troubles were partially responsible for the amount of court time granted to Missy Taylor, Carol Duncan, Sabrina Keys, and Sharika Webb, each of the four first-year players rose to the occasion and justified the coach’s increasing confidence in their abilities. Although they do have to keep improving, she was truly proud of them after the 79-67 triumph was in the books.
The microphone was passed to Lindsey Hicks, who confirmed that she was looking forward to returning to her home state Sunday and having her parents, plus several high school classmates, on hand at Ohio State. Hicks, who is majoring in graphic design, hopes to create advertisements and logos after she receives her degree. Her academic progress has been aided by the fact that her professors are generally pretty lenient about letting her turn in assignments late when due dates coincide with basketball road trips.
Lindsey did sprain an ankle when in high school, but has generally been injury-free. However, she has been wearing a kneepad in order to cover a bruise she recently received. Although she appreciates the fans, she is focused on the task at hand when in the game, and thus generally doesn’t notice when a spectator says or does something designed to get Lindsey’s attention. If someone in the crowd does break through, the occasion is usually a free-throw attempt. Similarly, the junior is not distracted by photographers as they jockey for position and snap pictures, although the lights near the basket sometimes throw off her concentration for a moment. Although she’s naturally most comfortable at Mackey, Hicks also likes Illinois’s Assembly Hall for its “smallness and feel”.
Although her family had planned to be on hand as the Fighting Illini visited Purdue, weather intervened. Her father has, however, observed Lindsey enough to tell her that she should get more arc on her shot and improve the rotation of the ball as it leaves her hands. When Hicks is at the house she shares with teammates Erika Valek and Beth Jones, however, “we don’t talk much about basketball -- more school and boyfriends”. Although Hicks claims that the highlights of her own culinary repertoire are grilled cheese sandwiches and Pop-Tarts, she insists she’s at least better in the kitchen than is Valek, “the worst cook in the house”.
Lindsey is not the only athlete in the Hicks family. Her brothers are playing football at Georgetown, and the older one is currently trying to earn a spot on an NFL roster. Jordan, her twin, was in many classes with her in high school. He’s always been her “number-one supporter”, a favor she has reciprocated even while adjusting to her changing role as a Boiler. Although she prefers starting (and the adrenaline rush produced by being introduced as part of the opening lineup) to coming off the bench, Lindsey took advantage of the opportunity to practice against – and otherwise learn from – Laura Meadows the past couple of seasons. During that time, Hicks was searching for a position as she pondered whether she was better suited for the post or the perimeter. Although she still enjoys the wing, she’s settled at the “4” for now. She defines her role as “ [to] be consistent, rebound, box out, and score – get a couple of shots”, at any rate.
When a questioner noted that Purdue and Ohio State were just two of the Big Ten teams still undefeated in league play for 2002-03, Lindsey said that enthusiastic fan support contributes significantly to home-court advantage. She added: “We practice in Mackey so much that it’s like our second home. Sometimes, it even seems it’s our first home.” Of course, there’s also the classroom to contend with. Thursday loomed as a busy day, with two three-hour labs to contend with before the final run-through of Michigan State’s plays. Lindsey hoped to go home and squeeze in a couple hours’ worth of napping before returning to the arena for pre-game warm-up drills. Although Hicks listens to no special music before emerging from the locker room, she generally walks out with Emily Heikes, who is bopping along to “her Justin Timberlake or *NSYNC tape”. Lindsey also enjoys bouncing off the walls of the inflatable “Boilermaker Special” locomotive that briefly fills the players’ entry tunnel before tip-off at Mackey.
Once the game starts, Hicks prefers to play against man-to-man defense. “Zone deadens you, while ‘man’ makes you be more aggressive. You move the ball more, and run more plays, against the ‘man’.” Host Tim Newton informed the audience that Lindsey had only 22 turnovers through the team’s first 24 games. As Hicks put it, her ball-handling proficiency shouldn’t be a surprise: “I was a guard in high school, and brought the ball up the court.” Even though she was a backcourt player, she was always tall for her age, although she “used to be skinny” before “bulking up a bit”. Lindsey was also on the track team, and wanted to run 100-meter sprints. The coach had other ideas, however, and made her run the 400 so she would be forced to take one full lap around the track. Hicks also participated in the high jump. On the volleyball court, she specialized in serving and spiking.
Also appearing on the program was assistant coach Pam Stackhouse, who is responsible for teaching the perimeter players, especially the point guards. When instructing her charges, “Stack” starts by working on shooting and exploring the different ways in which the team’s “quarterback” can shoulder a share of the scoring load. Although it’s become a cliché, the statement that a point guard is “your coach on the floor” certainly rings true. “Everything begins and ends with the point guard, and she has to know where everyone on both teams is at all times.” Using Erika Valek as an example, Stackhouse emphasized that “Erika cannot have a bad game”. Valek must bring the ball up aggressively and play tight defense, all while managing the action and transferring her energy to her teammates. Although it was hard for Erika to be a vocal leader as a freshman, the Colombian can now bring the necessary excitement level to the Boilers.
Valek has also demonstrated she can step up her game, as she increased her scoring output when Shereka Wright was sidelined. Although Erika had been hampered by foul trouble in a recent loss to Penn State as well as in the Boilers’ home victory over Illinois, and “just had a bad day overall” in the latter case, “she knows what she needs to do to improve”. While Erika can hit the pull-up jumper as long as she creates space for herself, the 5’6” guard can’t expect to be successful “when taking it in among the trees”. Purdue may be running more plays designed to take advantage of Erika’s strengths as a scorer, while minimizing her limitations as much as possible. Meanwhile, Sharika Webb “has come a long way, but is still somewhat overwhelmed.” Although Webb is more the “silent leader” type, she does employ her sense of humor at times – just not when the public is around.
In answer to the query of “What is the worst question somebody can ask you?”, Stackhouse said that she doesn’t appreciate being put on the spot by someone who expects her to say something personal and negative about a player. Pam always tries to remember that each of the women entrusted to her is “somebody’s daughter”. Thus, she attempts never to say anything of which the Boilermaker’s parents would disapprove. It was thus no surprise when Stackhouse insisted that the team was not intimidated in his visit to Happy Valley, and indeed came out confident and aggressive against the Lady Lions before physical and mental breakdowns took their toll. Even though the easy baskets Penn State scored helped Rene Portland’s club claim victory, Kelly Mazzante and company were “just a better team that night”. Stackhouse concluded by declaring: “We are Purdue, and we’re not afraid to play anywhere.”
When Curry returned for the closing segment, the head coach echoed an earlier Hicks statement. After declaring, “I try not to hear the crowd”, Kristy did admit that she occasionally suggests to the officials that fans who boo an anti-Purdue call (or non-call) “may have something to say to y’all”. Rather than earn the whistle-tooters’ enmity by screaming, Curry will attempt to “get the refs on our side” by cracking a joke. When all else fails, she’s not above invoking her current pregnancy in an attempt to gain sympathy – “and it sometimes works, especially with the men!” At least the crew members never throw things at her, although she can’t say the same for a few Penn State loyalists who showered her with debris on February 13.
Curry concluded the program by stating that one key to winning the upcoming showdowns with Michigan State and Ohio State would be to reverse the ball and make the extra pass. Throwing the ball inside before immediately passing it back out for a (hoped-for) open shot would be a point of emphasis. Against the Spartans, the Boilers would have to be aggressive and get to the free-throw line. Curry wrapped up the hour by declaring that since Tippecanoe County School District students would not be in class the day after the MSU game, there would be no excuse for a crowd of less than 10,000 at Mackey on February 20. As it turned out, however, the weather was not exactly kind to the Lafayette area that night…