Host Tim Newton began the program by announcing that while the Boilers are scheduled to tip off Saturday’s opening-round NCAA match-up with Valparaiso at 1:44 p.m. EST, the contest will actually start about 25 minutes after the conclusion of the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech clash at Mackey Arena. Thus, station WLFF (95.3 FM) will begin its coverage at 1:15. The broadcast will be available over the Internet, and can be accessed from this page:
Although the Valparaiso Crusaders have faced Purdue in four of the last five campaigns, the two Indiana rivals have not yet met this season. Curry announced that the series would pick up again next fall. Coach Keith Freeman likes to mix up his defenses, and a lot of “junk” looks can be expected from “Valpo”. By packing the lane, the Crusaders force opponents to set screens and reverse the ball. The team’s star is Jeanette Gray, a 5’10” senior forward who was named to the All-Mid-Continent-Conference first team after averaging 11.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest. Gray was recruited by Purdue, but chose to attend college in her hometown. Another player of local (Tippecanoe County) interest is junior guard Suzie Hammel, who played at Lafayette Jeff before transferring to Lebanon High for her senior season. Hammel, who hit five three-pointers in Valpo’s 76-58 loss at Mackey in November 2001, is now healthy after missing the Mid-Continent tournament. The Crusaders should thus be more perimeter-oriented than was the case in the 48-46 victory over Oakland that allowed Valpo to advance to the “Big Dance” for the first time. Curry suggested that the Indiana Hoosiers are the Big Ten team most reminiscent of Freeman’s club.
In response to a question about going to predetermined sites for opening-weekend NCAA action, Kristy said she agreed with criticism of the process. Her opinion is that the motivation of playing for the right to host was sacrificed on the altar of the “almighty dollar”, and that her Louisiana “home girls” at LSU will be hurt by having to start their NCAA run at Oregon even though Sue Gunter’s charges received the West Regional’s #1 seed. Meanwhile, the possibility of Stanford or Tennessee making it to the Final Four after four home victories is “uncalled for”. Although Curry hopes that the tournament will eventually move to an all-neutral-sites format, she admits to being “glad we’re in Dayton” if the Boilers advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Buckeye State is not far away, and Beth Jones should have family and friends on hand, as should her sister Ohioan, Lindsey Hicks.
Because of the USA’s decision to attack Iraq, there will be increased security at all arenas. Even Purdue’s own players will not be immune to the ramifications of the terror alert, and will have to check their bags upon entering Mackey – “it doesn’t matter if the folks at the desk know your face”. Although the Boilers will be inconvenienced, the reality of war “puts things in perspective”.
Because the NCAA mandates that each team conduct one open practice during the tournament, the public will be allowed into Mackey Friday. The schedule is as follows:
Noon-1 p.m. – Virginia Tech
1:05-2:05 -- Georgia Tech
2:10-3:10 -- Purdue
3:15-4:15 -- Valparaiso
Subsequent workouts will be closed. Meanwhile, the Crusaders have operated in relative secrecy, as few of their games have been televised. Nevertheless, Curry has acquired six films of Valpo action by calling colleagues (“Big 10 coaches are good to each other”) as well as by taking advantage of the fact that a company called Video One tapes every women’s college basketball contest that is televised. Although Curry and her staff planned to start “scouting” Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech the next day (March 19), “Valpo is our focus for now.” The fact that the Crusaders feature eight freshmen and three sophomores surprised Curry, who hypothesized that injuries might be among the reasons for the relative lack of upperclassmen on Freeman’s 14-woman roster. Kristy doesn’t envy Keith’s position – the Boilers’ five first-year performers are “plenty” as it is. However, Curry is not overlooking the 18-12 Crusaders, several of whom grew up with the desire to attend Purdue and will thus be motivated by a desire to perform well in Mackey. Indeed, matching Valpo’s intensity will be a concern, as will the fact that the #15 seed “will bring a crowd” from Porter County.
Ex-Purdue standout MaChelle Joseph will be returning to West Lafayette as a member of Agnus Berenato’s Georgia Tech staff. Should the Boilers and Yellow Jackets advance to Monday’s sub-regional final, Purdue will face a team that features a four-guard lineup but manages to out-rebound most of its opponents because center Sonja Mallory averages 9.1 caroms per contest, tops in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Although Curry is appreciative of Joseph and other “folks who laid the foundation” for Purdue’s on-court success, the plan is to thwart MaChelle’s plans of advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Should the Vegas Gold and Black survive the sub-regional, the BOILERmaker NETwork will sponsor day trips to Dayton on March 30 and (if warranted) April 1. Cost of $37 per person per excursion does not include the price of a ticket to the arena. For details, call 471-8022 or 494-3952 (both in the 765 area code).
In response to a question on recruiting, Curry said that it is important for a prospective Boiler’s parents to “be on the same page as” the coaching staff in terms of beliefs and values. Since only matters of health and academics are not directly in the hands of Kristy and her assistants, “Mom and Dad have to let us coach and teach.”
Although Mary Jo Noon arrived on campus during the Carolyn Peck era, the senior center redshirted during the 1998-99 season and thus made her Purdue on-court debut during Curry’s maiden campaign at the Boilers’ helm. Noon began her segment of the broadcast by declaring that she’s ready, after a “fast five years” in West Lafayette, to graduate and “get out in the real world”. She’s grateful for the fact she’s won a championship of some kind (national, Big 10 regular-season, or conference tournament) during each of her campaigns in the program. Right now, her “number one goal” is to “stay healthy for six more games”. Mary Jo enters the NCAA tourney hoping for a carryover from her “very active” 19-point, 11-rebound performance in the 67-65 victory over Ohio State that gave the Boilers the Big 10’s automatic bid to the “Big Dance”. She hopes not to experience a recurrence of the back injury she suffered at Valparaiso a few years ago.
In response to a question from Ms Hoops regular Lola, Noon said that “I encourage the freshmen when they’re down”, but that “I mentor more by my actions than by words.” Mary Jo added that the newest Boilers seem to have assimilated easily, and that “I don’t get kidded about my age by the players as much as by the coaches.” However, Sharika Webb finds ways to “make fun of everybody”.
With respect to her Big Ten career, the 2003 tournament crown was a “great way to go out”. However, not everybody who competed at Conseco Fieldhouse was so lucky. As program host Tim Newton mentioned, Wisconsin senior Kristi Seeger had kept her jersey on for one hour after the Badgers’ loss on the tournament’s opening day. When asked by Newton if she would perhaps echo Seeger’s gesture, Noon responded that she wasn’t thinking about walking off the court for the final time. She’s “pleased with the bracket” the Boilers received. Obviously, she hopes not to conclude her playing days until a few hours after the tip-off of next month’s national championship game in Atlanta.
“If your offense is off, do you focus on rebounding, or do you stick with your game plan?” To this question, Noon replied that she chooses to “stay with it” and try to keep positive. When struggling, she consoles herself with such thoughts as “it’s not how you start, but how you finish”. If her shot refuses to fall, she can always “stay active, work hard, and contribute on defense”. However, she always takes the court feeling that she’ll have a great night.
Mary Jo hopes to head south and pursue a career in pharmaceutical sales. She might stay in the Lafayette area for a few more years, however, and has considered becoming a coach. Her “number one memory” is the great 1998-99 team’s run to the national title behind Ukari Figgs and Stephanie White-McCarty. A more recent highlight was reading the defense before scoring the basket that beat the halftime buzzer during the Boilers’ semifinal victory in last week’s Big Ten tournament. Noon will remember the victories and championships, but also her personal growth as she learned many lessons not directly related to basketball.
Mary Jo expressed hope for a good turnout at the fourth annual Tiffany Young Memorial Game, which will be played at Mackey Arena at 4:30 p.m. on April 20. Proceeds will be benefit the Tiffany Young Youth Center, which is scheduled to open this spring in Hillsboro, Alabama. Young, a member of the aforementioned national championship team, was killed by a drunk driver on July 31, 1999.
Having recently expanded her game with a move that features her catching a pass at the high post before driving to the hoop, Noon now wants to hit the first trey of her collegiate career. Her most challenging opponents have included former Indiana center Jill Chapman and ex-Wisconsin Badger Nina Smith. The toughest opposing venue has been Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center, where the Boilers last won during the ’98-’99 season. Next in line is Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Noon concluded her segment by asking that she be remembered as a “great person who went through adversity and loves people”.
Upon Curry’s return, the coach declared that the Big 10’s receipt of six NCAA bids “bodes well for our league”. Meanwhile, Kristy is “thrilled to death” by the likelihood that future “impact makers” Katie Gearlds and Erin Lawless will keep the Boilers among the league’s – and nation’s – elite. On March 26, Gearlds and Lawless will be on display in the McDonald’s All-American game that will be shown by ESPN at 3 p.m. (EST) on April 1. Katie and Erin will also participate in an April all-star showcase in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Curry is optimistic about Indi Johnson, the third current high school senior who has signed with the Boilers. Kristy is also recruiting “two of the top ten or twelve” junior college players “in the country”. Her pursuit of prospects took her to Nevada, Utah, and Texas on the Boilers’ “off day” during the Big 10 tourney. When Boiler coaches recruit, they generally “stay pretty close to home” on Tuesdays and go farther afield on Mondays, as the team does not practice on the traditional first day of the academic week.
A girl who’s always been her team’s star and wishes to continue to be “the one” is unlikely to receive an offer to play at Purdue. What “flies” with Curry and her assistants is a prospect’s desire to perform alongside such talents as Gearlds, Erika Valek, and Shereka Wright. However, failure to be assured a certain amount of playing time may cause a recruit to look elsewhere, as might such factors as weather, distance from home, and Purdue’s inability to offer a particular course of study.
Curry then turned her attention to the Big Ten’s NCAA Tournament entries. Although Ohio State will be playing at Louisiana Tech, the host Lady Techsters are likely to struggle against the Buckeyes’ defense. Compounding Tech’s difficulties is the fact that coach Kurt Budke recently lost two reserves to academic difficulties, and thus has “only eight kids available” (although a story on a Louisiana Tech fan site claims that Budke actually has ten athletes at his disposal, pending determination of the status of one-time Purdue recruit Sultra Harding).
Curry pronounced Minnesota “real good”, and seemed to be anticipating that the Golden Gophers would meet Stanford in second-round play. Meanwhile, Illinois and Michigan State should be happy they’re in the tournament instead of worrying about where they were placed.
Asked to name potential sleepers, Curry said that the combination of LaToya Thomas and Tan White made Mississippi State a force to be reckoned with in the Midwest Regional. The Bulldogs might, however, be kept from Atlanta by Texas Tech, whose coach (Marsha Sharp) is “at her best this time of year”. In the Mideast, North Carolina is “quick, athletic, and explosive”. Stanford could easily parlay its potential four-game home-court advantage into the West’s Final Four berth. As for the East, Kristy understandably doesn’t want to tout the prospects of any squad save her own.
Since the tournament committee “loves rematches”, Curry thought that Mid-American Conference entry Western Michigan might be sent back to Mackey after losing at Purdue in December. Kristy also considered the prospect of a potential early meeting with Vanderbilt or UC Santa Barbara, and shared Newton’s sense of relief that UCSB’s seventh-seeded Gauchos are in the Midwest Regional, not the East.
When asked about Noon’s potential replacements in the center slot, Curry brought up the names of current Boilers Carol Duncan and Emily Heikes, then mentioned that a 6’2” “juco” player would be “in town this weekend”. Kristy will miss Mary Jo, who’s “been with me every step of the way since I got here”. However, the coach is looking forward to being able to employ a “four out, one in” offense next season. The Boilers will be deeper, and thus more able to run and press as they present opponents with match-up problems. However, the inside game will not be neglected. Not only will Lawless and Sabrina Keys be among the “six or seven people who can play the post”, but some current high school juniors in the 6’4”-6’5” range are being courted by Curry and her staff.
After Newton announced that Lola had received the “question of the week” award and accompanying prize package, Curry said that the Boilers would be taking one game at a time as they kept in mind the mantra of “the will has to be stronger than the skill.” Since the freshmen have each “come around” in recent weeks and “brought their play up a notch”, Duncan, Webb, and Keys have been told to expect to see the floor during the “Big Dance”. Also being assured that “we’ll play you – you’ve earned it” are Brianna Howard and Missy Taylor.
As for the Boilers who’ve been through previous NCAA tourney games, Erika Valek and Beth Jones have had recent knee problems, while Lindsey Hicks has battled an Achilles’ tendon injury. All three juniors are feeling better, but Jones has probably played too many minutes, and Curry hopes to rest her as much as possible during the coming weeks. Although the Boilers have had several recent “close calls”, the team has continued to avoid major medical problems. Following the Big Ten tournament finale, the players were given three days off before returning to the practice court last Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, indeed a “day of rest”, the squad watched ESPN’s announcement of the NCAA brackets.
Even during spring break, however, the “gold” and “black” squads have pushed each other in practice. Indeed, the “vacation” period has been the best of Curry’s tenure at Purdue. The coach concluded by expressing her hope that any combination of five she sends onto the court during the “Dance” will put forth a balanced effort. Instead of relying on Shereka Wright to shoulder the load, everyone must score, defend, and rebound. Curry stated that she loves “this bunch of kids”, and would be pleased with the season “if it ended today”. However, she fervently hopes that each of her charges will “keep stepping up” until the Boilers ascend the victory stand in the Georgia Dome on April 8.