There are many trade-offs inherent to your life if you are a Division I student-athlete. You get a free education while playing the sport you love in front of adoring fans. But you also take on a full-time job that affords few vacations or holidays. A female basketball player practices 40 hours a week, is expected to stay on campus and work out all summer, and must take the court when her classmates are away on vacations. This is as true of a member of one of the weakest major squads in the country as it is of a contributor to the team ranked #6 nationally. On Thanksgiving Day, the women of four disparate programs gave up the opportunity to eat turkey with their families in order to play in the WBCA/Basketball Travelers Classic at Mackey Arena. Purdue’s tournament-opening opponent was Savannah State, the weakest opponent on the Boilers’ entire schedule. Savannah State has been a Division 1 school for such a short period of time that the Lady Tigers don’t even have an RPI rating. When they finally do get such a number assigned, it will be a very low one.
The game played out much as one might have expected, with the hapless Lady Tigers unable to defend the faster Boilers on one end of the court, and unable to score against them on the other. After only six minutes of play, the home team had a 14-2 lead, and each Purdue starter had scored at least once. The only negative was that Erika Valek picked up two quick fouls, but Sharika Webb ran the point in an extremely capable fashion in Valek’s absence, with no drop in the Boilers’ level of play. The hosts were able to pour on the points, running razzle-dazzle fast breaks where precision passing led to point-blank layups. The Vegas Gold and Black went into halftime up by 35, 49-14.
In the second stanza, things picked up right where they had left off for the Boilers. Purdue began the period with a 10 -0 run. Each player in home uniform not only saw extended minutes, but also scored. Things got a bit sloppy when coach Kristy Curry employed combinations of women who had little court experience together, but the Boilers’ effort never flagged. With 11:40 remaining, Shereka Wright drove the baseline and snaked in a bucket to surpass the 1,000-point mark for her career. After receiving a standing ovation, she was soon subbed out. When the game was over, Purdue had reached a new all-time record (78 points) for victory margin, with the final score being 103-25.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Boilers concentrated on running a transition game, and in getting the ball to players on the low block for easy scoring opportunities. As one might expect, their shot selection was reflected in their field-goal percentage of 60% on the night. The Boilers had an excellent ratio of 29 assists to their 42 made baskets.
To the Boilers’ credit, they did not attempt to press or trap the overmatched Lady Tigers. They were generally in a man-to-man, and that strategy was sufficient in holding the visitors to 19.6% shooting from the floor. Savannah State had 28 turnovers, 15 of which were credited as Purdue steals.
Purdue was dominant in every category Thursday night, and that included rebounding – the hosts pulled down 49 boards to the visitors’ 21. Emily Heikes led the Boilers with 7 rebounds.
Purdue connected on 13 of its 19 attempts from the stripe for a 68% success rate. Mary Jo Noon was the sole Boiler to make a perfect 100%, going 1-for-1.
Purdue had 29 assists to 12 turnovers. Even though positive assist-turnover ratios are expected of point guards and other individual players, it is a rare women’s basketball team that has such success as an entire group. Those that do manage this feat tend to have extremely successful seasons. What was most impressive was the unselfish team play that each Boiler exhibited whenever she was on the court.
In contests such as this, Shereka Wright tends to play a conservative role. The ball doesn’t go to her in offensive sets, and she seems more concerned with helping her teammates get involved than with taking over the game. Still, when she’s all by herself for a breakaway layup, she’s gong to put it in. And when she grabs an offensive rebound, she’s going to make the put-back. And before you know it, all those opportunities add up to a boatload of points. In twenty minutes of play, Shereka scored 19 points (7-of-12 field-goal attempts, 0-of-2 three-point tries, 5-of-6 free-throw attempts), pulled down 6 rebounds, and added 2 blocked shots, 2 steals, 3 assists, and no turnovers. By scoring the 1,000th point of her career during the game, Shereka became the fourth-fastest Boiler to reach quadruple figures. This achievement is all the more remarkable when one considers that Wright came off the bench when a freshman.
Lindsey Hicks had one of her best games as a Boiler. What was most impressive was that she sustained a high level of effort for all 16 minutes that she was on the court. She was able to do the little things that don’t show up in the box score, and generally looked comfortable and focused throughout the evening. Hicks finished with 9 points (4-of-6 FG, 1-of-2 treys), 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists to no turnovers.
Erika Valek was consistently able to push the ball up the court and find open shooters. She picked up two quick blocking fouls, which limited her minutes to some extent. When she returned to the court, she was able to play tight defense without picking up a third foul. In her 15 minutes of play, Erika scored 10 points (4-of-7 FG, 2-of-4 treys) and recorded 2 steals. The true measure of a point guard lies in passing rather than in scoring. In this respect, Erika excelled by dishing out 8 assists against her lone turnover.
One of the reasons Erika’s assist totals have increased is that virtually every time Valek throws the ball to Beth Jones, Beth is able to convert. Jones once again played well, both when she had the ball in her hands and when she did not. Particularly impressive were the six rebounds she was able to grab. In sixteen minutes of action, she also collected 12 points (5-of-6 FG, 2-of-3 treys), an assist, a steal, and a turnover.
Mary Jo Noon took a little longer to get going than her teammates as she missed her first two shots. She then “dialed in”, and was able to hit the rest of her attempts. Many offensive sets saw Noon receive the ball on the high block before passing back out to an open perimeter player. Mary Jo passed very well in these situations, and recorded a career-high 3 assists. In addition, Mary Jo had 11 points (5-of-7 FG, 1-of-1 FT), 1 rebound, a blocked shot, and a turnover in 17 minutes of action.
Emily Heikes played the game wearing a large, clear face guard. The mask appeared to be bothering her somewhat, as she’d monkey with it and take it off frequently. She remained as aggressive as always under the basket, pulling down a team-high seven rebounds. Emily’s shot was off initially, but her touch improved as the game wore on. Towards the end of the contest, she had two steals, each of which she took down court for a breakaway layup attempt. On the second such occasion, she was fouled hard and was pushed head over heels on the baseline. Luckily, Emily is a very tough cookie, and seems to be the Boiler most able to sustain such treatment without serious injury. She ended the evening with 9 points (4-of-8 FG, 1-of-2 FT), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.
Sharika Webb was needed when Valek picked up her second early foul. Webb thus played 25 minutes, the most for any Boiler on the night. Above all else, she established herself as someone with a true point-guard mentality. She seemed to focus on distributing the ball, pushing the tempo, and exciting the crowd with her no-look bullet passes. Some of her turnovers occurred because her teammates are not yet ready to receive such quick balls on the fly. Sharika finished her third game as a collegiate player with 1 point (0-of-2 FG, 1-of-2 FT), 4 rebounds, a blocked shot, and 6 assists to 3 turnovers.
Carol Duncan’s shot began to fall, and she connected on some easy baskets that she might have missed in earlier contests. She brings a great spark off the bench as she attacks every possession and every defensive opportunity. Carol also demonstrated the ability to find the open player as she delivered a nice high-low pass for an assist. The assist joined 10 points (4-of-7 FG, 2-of-3 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 turnovers, and a steal as the box score line she had to show for 16 minutes of play.
Power forward Sabrina Keys might be being groomed to play some center as well, as there were several instances when Keys was joined on the court by either Emily Heikes or Lindsey Hicks, as opposed to Carol or Mary Jo. Currently, Sabrina does the things that don’t show up in the box score better than the things that do. She was able to provide help on defense, and then demonstrate the savvy of the wiliest veteran in recovering to guard her own player. Sabrina looks a little more comfortable every time she takes the court, and one of her made baskets was a gorgeous pull-up jumper. In 17 minutes of action, Sabrina scored 5 points (2-of-4 FG, 1-of-2 FT), pulled down 3 rebounds, and recorded an assist.
Missy Taylor was able to use her long frame to great advantage, and it was evident that she will be almost impossible for opposing teams to match up against once she has added a little strength and recovered 100% from the injury which sidelined her as a high-school senior. As did Carol Duncan’s, Taylor’s shot began dropping with more regularity. One hopes that Thursday’s game provided Missy a huge jolt of confidence she will be able to carry into future contests. In twenty-one minutes, Missy recorded 9 points (4-of-7 FG, 1-of-2 treys), 5 rebounds, 2 steals, a blocked shot, and a turnover.
This game was just what the doctor ordered for Ashley Mays. Ashley looked infinitely more comfortable than she had in past games, and was one of the more active players on the team. Ashley showed glimpses of being a superior defender. She can apply on-ball pressure, cannot be driven against, and was responsible for 2 blocked shots. Mays also snagged 5 rebounds by establishing position and using her “ups”. One hopes that Ashley, like Missy, can use future contests to build on the confidence gained against Savannah State. In addition to the aforementioned blocks and rebounds, Ashley scored 4 points (2-of-3 FG), dished out 2 assists, recorded a steal, and committed 3 turnovers.
Although Brianna Howard’s 5 minutes of action was much shorter than the stretch allotted to any other Boiler, Howard certainly made the most of her time on the court. She was a force in the paint defensively, and was able to disrupt Lady Tigers who were driving to the basket. Unlike most walk-ons, Brianna is an aggressive player who mixes it up on both ends of the court. She looks for her shot, and hit a particularly impressive driving layup despite being hammered by a Savannah State player as the ball was released. Brianna finished with 4 points (1-of-1 FG, 2-of-3 FT), a rebound, and 2 steals.
Perhaps because of the enormous disparity in talent between the opposing sides, each coach appeared to be much more concerned with specific goals than with the outcome of the game. Curry concentrated on distributing the minutes and allowing the bench players to become comfortable on the court. It was announced earlier in the week that Curry and her husband are expecting their second child in May. When she was pregnant with Kelsey during the 1999-2000 season, Kristy blamed any outbursts she exhibited on her wild hormones. Hormones or not, this year’s edition of the Boilers is so focused and hard-working that it’s difficult to imagine Curry unloading on the team very often.
The officials had very little to do – neither team played a particularly physical game, and only 27 fouls were whistled during the contest.
The announced crowd was 3,983 –smaller than for most Purdue home contests, but an extremely good turnout for a Thanksgiving evening. Because the pep band was not present, Mackey Arena was uncharacteristically silent. The cheerleaders did remain over the break, and did their best to get the crowd going while rousing music of various genres was piped in over the public-address system.
Things will get much tougher for the Boilers Friday when they take on Texas Christian University, which overcame an ice-cold start to beat Holy Cross in the opening game by a score of 68-54. The Horned Frogs were able to win without their star player, Sandora Irvin. Although the sophomore was reported to be serving a one-game suspension, the possibility that the TCU coaches were sandbagging so that Purdue couldn’t scout their top scorer occurred to more than one person sitting in my section. The championship clash will provide the Boilers with a much better idea of how they will fare against Big 10 teams than have Purdue’s first three games of the season.
Game Ball: Shereka Wright