Since the program was aired barely forty-eight hours after the Boilermakers’ 56-51 loss at Ohio State, the head coach admitted right away that “we were never as down as we were yesterday”. Nevertheless, the team has elected to focus on the positives: “We have a lot left to play for, and thank goodness we’re at least 21-and-5, not 5-and-21.” The first question of the night came from an audience member who wondered whether Curry regretted sticking with the zone defense for so long against the Buckeyes. Although the eventual switch to man-to-man had seemed to energize her charges, Curry said that the zone had been more effective in the first half, so she decided to emphasize that strategy until the time-and-score situation demanded that Purdue contest OSU’s ball movement and penetration as aggressively as possible. Of course, the Boilers then left themselves more vulnerable to being burned for easy layups. Curry implied that the open looks Caity Matter and other Buckeyes had gotten against the comparatively passive zone were more attributable to the Boilers’ execution (or lack thereof) than to the game plan the Purdue staff had concocted.
Kristy then turned her attention to the Senior Night festivities planned for Indiana’s February 27 visit to Mackey Arena. In order to accommodate the young fans who will have to attend school Friday, Mary Jo Noon will be honored before the game “so y’all don’t have to stay up so late”. Student manager Melissa Bloom will also be recognized, as will somebody named Michelle, who is apparently on the trainer’s staff but not in the current media guide. Music lovers may be inspired to attend by the revelation that Lafayette’s own Bach Chorale Youth Chorus will be performing “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Locals who can’t be in the stands will be able to catch Insight Cable’s tape-delayed coverage of the game at 10 p.m. Thursday, as well as at some unknown (to me, anyway) hour on February 28. When radio show host Tim Newton commented that the Hoosiers are difficult to prepare for because they “do strange things”, Curry concurred, and added that “from year to year, the talent level doesn’t matter – it’s a rivalry, and it’s always close”.
Although Indiana coach Kathi Bennett is apparently secure in her job, the impending end of Jane Albright’s stint as the Wisconsin bench boss had become known earlier Tuesday. Curry said that it was a “sad day for me”, as Albright is a friend, but that “this is a tough business, and you have to win”. Kristy went on to state that if her own daughter decides to pursue a basketball career, “I’d let Kelsey play for Albright in a minute because I know the character Jane brings to the table.” Coach Curry later expressed her fervent hope that the Badgers would resolve to ”do it for Jane” by beating Minnesota Thursday and Penn State Sunday. Should Wisconsin pull off the improbable sweep, Purdue would (assuming victories over Indiana and Iowa in the next few days) tie the Lady Lions for the Big Ten crown, while the Golden Gophers would finish no better than 11-5 (a game behind the co-champions). At the very least, “we want to finish second, not third.”
As for their ill-fated Ohio State trip, the Boiler traveling party took the bus to Columbus Saturday. After eating dinner and unpacking, the players were treated to a showing of “35 to 40 minutes of film”, followed by a review of the scouting report. Since the game was scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, the squad was at Value City Arena by 11 a.m. Although Purdue was prepared for Jim Foster’s triangle-and-two defense, as well as the Buckeyes’ propensity to play “straight-up D” behind opposing interior players, the Boiler posts hurt the Old Gold and Black’s cause by failing to “finish” with the degree of proficiency they had recently demonstrated against Illinois’s similar defensive scheme. “Since we didn’t hit inside, we never opened up the outside.”
Despite her frustration with the loss in Ohio, Curry plans to stick with her “more positive than negative” motivational style. She feels it’s important for the players, trainers, sports information directors, and others to “all start on the same page”, and that great energy and effort are required from everybody charged with the task of bringing the national championship trophy back to West Lafayette.
A man in the audience noted that Erika Valek had enjoyed some success with bank shots in the past, then asked if the point guard should be reverse the recent downturn in her field-goal percentage by “using that board” from certain angles. Curry agreed that the suggestion had some merit, but that Erika’s errors are generally more mental than physical. Valek may be concentrating too much on the opponents’ defense at the expense of her own game, or otherwise trying too hard. It is Curry’s fervent hope that Erika will learn to refocus and “let the mistake go”, and Valek had appeared to be taking the advice to heart during the Boilers’ most recent practice – “She had a good day today.”
Since Emily Heikes and Shereka Wright were the only two Boilers to score in the final sixteen minutes of the loss to OSU, many fans (myself included) have expressed the belief that Heikes should be starting. An audibly peeved Curry implored Emily’s defenders to “just look at her minutes”, and to bear in mind that “you sometimes need more energy off the bench than from a starter”. Although it’s tough to be consistent as a reserve, Heikes has “done an amazing job”, and her supporters should be content with that.
Curry then yielded the floor to Beth Jones, who said that the attempt to incorporate the current freshmen into the mix has allowed her to understand how such former standouts as Katie Douglas and Camille Cooper felt when Jones and her classmates arrived for the 2000-01 season. Since Jones has metaphorically been in the shoes now filled by such women as Carol Duncan and Missy Taylor, Beth has attempted to help the “youngsters” by explaining how she dealt with going from a high school star to a Division I benchwarmer. She can also sympathize with dating difficulties and other social aspects of college life. Although academic and athletic demands (including weekend curfews) prevent her from going out much during the season, Jones unwinds by visiting the mall, watching movies (she recently accompanied housemate Lindsey Hicks to a showing of Chicago), and even cleaning her room on occasion. The fact that Jones, Hicks, and Erika Valek share an abode with two sophomore members of Purdue’s volleyball squad allows the basketball players to escape each other by “spending some time hanging out in Daren’s (middle hitter Poe) or Kim’s (defensive specialist Cappa) room”. Not to worry, though – Beth says that she, Erika, and Lindsey “love being around each other so much that we never get into fights”.
Similarly, Jones refused to pin any of the blame for the Boilers’ recent struggles on the freshman players. “If anything, the upperclassmen need to step up and lead”, but the problem is not lack of hustle or desire on any athlete’s part. Fans must keep in mind that the Big Ten is very competitive, and that any given team can step up on any given night.
One sign of Beth’s development on the court is that a player is generally assigned to shadow her when an opposing team employs a box-and-one or triangle-and-two defensive scheme. Jones credits hard work on the part of both herself and her teammates for her emergence as perhaps the “best surprise” in the Big Ten. Last summer, she prepared for the anticipated rigors of her junior season by working on her quickness, shot, and defensive consistency. Typically rising at 6 a.m., she developed the endurance that allowed her to chase three-point threat Caity Matter around the Value City Arena court Sunday. Although she appears to be in perpetual motion on the court, Jones admits to “resting” during free-throw attempts, as well as when the ball is out of bounds.
Jones took advantage of an opportunity to grow spiritually as well as athletically by spending two weeks in Spain last summer. From a base in Barcelona, she and her Athletes in Action teammates shared their love of Jesus Christ as well as their passion for sport. Beth, who embraces her status as a role model both on and off the court, was recently named to the 2003 Verizon Academic All-District V University Division Women's Basketball Team. In response to an 8-year-old girl who was wearing a replica of Beth’s #30 jersey, the political-science major said that Purdue Pete’s inflatable sidekick had helped convince Jones to attend Purdue: “I came here as a high school sophomore, and basically fell in live with Rowdy.”
Also playing a part in Beth’s decision was the instant rapport she felt with assistants Pam Stackhouse and Kerry Cremeans. In addition, the Boilers reminded Beth of her teammates at Ohio’s Mason High School – “they were talented, hard-working, wanted to win, and knew how to win.” Most important, however, was the academic component of what promised to be (and apparently has indeed been) a well-rounded collegiate experience. Once Beth formalized her decision to attend Purdue, she set her sights on finally winning the Ohio state championship that had so tantalizingly eluded her. After three straight second-place finishes, Mason finally grabbed the crown in 2000 for its 102nd victory in the 106 games the school played during Beth’s time on the squad. Also contributing to the title run were Jere Issenmann (now at Illinois), Racquel Ellis (Kentucky), and Michelle Munoz. Munoz, who spent the 2000-01 campaign as a Tennessee freshman, subsequently transferred to Ohio State and will be playing again next fall after sitting out the one-year stretch mandated by the NCAA. Thus, Beth will be in the unusual position of being “the enemy” to the family of lifelong friend Michelle when the Boilers take on the Buckeyes next season.
Team strength and conditioning coordinator Greg Lehman led off his segment of the program by saying that Jones had probably put in twice the normal basketball player’s summer effort during the past off-season. Returning to campus in “fantastic shape”, Jones turned in what was easily the best time during the team’s fall mile run. As well as improving her speed, Beth developed the endurance required to play 30 to 35 minutes a game at full bore.
Soon after the current season ends, Beth and her teammates will start hitting the weight room for 3 to 5 days a week – “the exact number depends on the needs of the personnel”. Jumping and cutting exercises will be added to the regimen around midsummer, with the goal being to have the players game-ready about six weeks before the 2003-04 opener. Once the season begins, the conditioning process is designed to get the players through a three-hour practice and to peak by the time the Big Ten tournament and NCAA “Big Dance” roll around. Lifting is de-emphasized – a typical session with the weights lasts for only 30 to 40 minutes.
After declaring that Erika Valek is “pound-for-pound the strongest member of the team”, Lehman waffled by opining that Shereka Wright may be “the strongest relative to her body weight”. In responding to a question about nutritional supplements, Lehman said that such products can be “great additions”, especially for an athlete who has trouble maintaining energy during practice or recovering after a workout, but that simply eating right is generally the preferable course of action.
Stretch cords are used in exercises that help players develop the flexibility that helps prevent tightness and pulled muscles. Since anterior cruciate ligament injuries are endemic in women’s basketball, a fan asked Lehman if Purdue was addressing the phenomenon of the “dreaded ACL”. Greg informed the listeners that a program designed to enhance knee-joint stability would be introduced in April. Zigzag cuts and agility drills will be among the components designed to enhance flexibility. The second-greatest area of concern is the shoulders, which are prone to pop out because the shock of impact is aggravated by the fact that a typical member of the squad has longer arms (and thus more weight for the shoulder to support) than does her non-playing counterpart.
When Curry returned for the program’s closing segment, she agreed with Newton’s declaration that Jones is a “great role model” and has shown the greatest season-to-season improvement of any Boiler in recent memory. Kristy added: “Beth wants to be a Rhodes Scholar, and her GPA gives her a good shot at it.” In the more immediate future, however, Jones and her teammates will have to play good defense against Indiana so that the Hoosiers continue to struggle in their attempts to score points. When the Boilers have possession, they will be charged with setting screens and reversing the ball, the goal being to free such shooters as Jones for open looks.
As for Sunday’s regular-season finale at Iowa, Purdue will have to try to contain Jennie Lillis and Kristi Faulkner, who combined to score 47 points in last month’s 83-64 Mackey Arena triumph over the Hawkeyes. Although Lisa Bluder’s club is “better at home than on the road”, Curry feels that “it’s time for us to take a road win into the Big Ten tournament”. First, however, the goal is to build on the 8600 tickets already sold for Thursday night’s game – “Grab a friend or a neighbor and let’s shoot for 10,000!” Although Purdue’s successful bid to host opening-weekend NCAA tourney games means that there will be less sadness than would be the case if Noon was indeed taking the Mackey Arena floor for the final time, the night still promises to be an emotional one.
Next week’s guests will be point guard Erika Valek and associate athletics director Roger Blalock.