"It doesn’t matter who you play as much as when you play them." Around these parts, this quote is often attributed to men’s coach Gene Keady, but it has been kicking around since the days of the peach basket. On Saturday afternoon, the Purdue women demonstrated how true that saying can be. Kristy Curry’s charges had last played in the friendly confines of Mackey Arena on the day after Thanksgiving. Since then, Curry’s club had played two extremely close games, beating Indiana University by two points in the RCA Dome before losing by one at UCSB’s Thunderdome. Several individuals affiliated with the squad were quoted as saying that both contests could have been easy wins had the Boilers played defense with their usual tenacity. A casual observer might have pointed out that knocking down some shots would have helped as well.
Finally healthy after suffering through a series of devastating injuries the last couple of years, the Boston College Eagles have been playing very well this season. They boasted a 6-1 record and #19 national ranking coming into Saturday’s game, and are expected to contend for the Big East title. But the Eagles certainly found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time when they stepped onto Keady Court to compete against the “re-dedicated” Boilers.
From the opening tip it was evident that Purdue was going to go for every loose ball and contest every BC shot. The Eagles seemed unprepared for the scrappy home team, and at the first media timeout the score was 8-4 in the Old Gold and Black’s favor. Cathy Inglese’s charges then settled down and got back in the game. The Boilers, meanwhile, turned the ball over on several possessions. With 7:46 left in the half, the visitors had assumed a 15-14 lead. Purdue then started taking better care of the ball, and went on a 17-6 run to go into the locker room on the high end of a 31-21 score.
Inglese apparently lit a fire under her troops during the intermission. The Eagles started the second half with an attacking attitude. Star fifth-year senior Becky Gottstein scored two quick buckets to narrow the gap to 6. The margin remained in this range through much of the period. With nine-and-a-half minutes to go, Purdue was up by a 41-37 count. At that point, three things happened. First, Curry switched defenses from man-to-man to zone, forcing the Eagles to shoot from outside. Second, enough fouls had been called so that the Boilers were in the one-and-one. Finally, Erika Valek regained her early season form. The junior guard began hitting all her shots, pushing the ball up the court quickly, and playing tenacious defense. The Boston College offense stalled as the players settled for quick shots. Meanwhile, the hosts made their field-goal attempts, and also extended the lead by making frequent trips to the free-throw line. With six minutes left, the score was 56-37, and the game was out of reach. Although the Eagles played hard until the end, so did the Boilers. The final score was 70-54.
Comments on specific aspects of the game:
After two weak efforts, the Boilers regained their shooting touch by hitting at a 53% clip from the field. In contrast to many of the team’s previous games, however, Saturday’s high percentage was attributable to making mid-range jump shots. Purdue didn’t attempt many layups, and shot very poorly (1-of-7, 14%) from behind the arc.
BC was held to 39% shooting from the floor, including a success rate of 12.5% from behind the three-point line. Purdue employed a variety of traps, and also played some full-court press when the score was tight. Although the Eagles were able to bring the ball up the court in the face of such pressure, the defensive strategy did slow them down. For most of the afternoon, the Boilers employed a tenacious man-to-man, but it was their switch to a zone halfway through the second stanza that befuddled the visitors. Boston College committed 19 turnovers, 9 of which Purdue were credited as Purdue steals.
Purdue went hard to the boards all afternoon, and was able to win the rebounding war, 33-28. Valek, the shortest player on the team, led the Boilers with 9 caroms. She was able to do this because of her excellent positioning on the weak side.
The Boilers failed to reach their season average as they went 19-for-31 from the charity stripe for 61%. They did succeed in making more free throws than their opponents attempted, as the Eagles connected on 7 of their 10 tries. Missy Taylor was perfect from the stripe, going 2-for-2.
In the first 10 minutes, the Boilers looked to be wound too tight, and committed a large number of unforced turnovers. As the game wore on, Purdue settled down and valued the ball. On the afternoon, the team recorded 11 assists to 17 turnovers.
Since Boston College’s defensive strategy against Mary Jo Noon resembled Indiana’s, it was apparent that Inglese and her assistants had watched tapes of the “Duel in the Dome”. Whenever Noon caught the ball, the Eagle posts converged on her and forced her to pass. On several occasions, Mary Jo became flustered by all the attention and turned the ball over by either passing poorly or traveling. These turnovers appeared to frustrate her and take her out of her game, and she became increasingly passive as the game went on. One suspects that the coaches will attempt to use the Western Michigan game to help Noon regain her confidence. Mary Jo finished with 4 points (1-of-4 field-goal attempts, 2-of-3 free-throw tries), 2 rebounds, and 4 turnovers.
Shereka Wright has developed a new approach. Rather than waiting for her teammates to get warmed up, she’s attacking from the get-go -- and bringing the rest of the squad along with her. As a result, she’s scoring early and often. She thus attracts more and more defensive attention, which opens things up for the other Boilers. Wright’s best play of the afternoon might have come at the end of the first half. Shereka used a series of hesitation dribbles to bring the entire Boston College team in to guard her before tossing a quick shovel pass to a wide-open Sabrina Keys. In another noteworthy sequence, Shereka dribbled halfway up the key. Directly in front of her was an Eagle waiting to take a charge. Recognizing this, Wright pulled up for a sweet jump shot while the defender flopped despite the lack of contact. Shereka recorded another All-America caliber line. To her game-high 27 points (9-of-11 FG, 1-of-1 from three-point range, 8-of-12 FT), she added 7 rebounds, an assist, and 2 turnovers.
While Shereka was rock-steady, the game was put away when Erika Valek upped her own level of play to match Wright’s. Once Valek’s shot started to fall, she became more comfortable with other aspects of her game. She keyed two beautiful fast breaks, including one on which her behind-the-back pass was caught by Shereka, who finished the play with a layup as cheers of approval rang out from the stands. Erika also used her speed and positioning to snare a game- high 9 rebounds. In addition, she scored 15 points (6-of-11 FG, 0-of-1 from behind the arc, 3-of-6 FT), dished out 7 assists, and recorded 3 steals to 2 turnovers.
Lindsey Hicks, the Boiler who might have struggled the most in the last two games, regained much of her confidence with a very solid outing. Her ability to see the court allows Hicks to make assists from anywhere, and she had 3 on the day. In her twenty-two minutes, Lindsey also recorded 4 points (2-of-4 FG, 0-of-1 from three-point range), 3 rebounds, a block, a steal, and a turnover.
Beth Jones’s shot wasn’t falling. Although the Eagles’ guards generally covered her closely, she even failed to connect on her wide-open looks. Beth’s strong play off the ball never flagged, however. Jones was particularly effective at disrupting BC’s half-court sets with strong interior defense. She finished with 4 points (2-of-8 FG, 0-of-4 treys, 0-of-2 FT), 4 steals, and one turnover.
Emily Heikes, who has replaced Carol Duncan as the primary back-up center, now shifts between the 4 and 5 positions. Emily made a positive impact Saturday even though she didn’t look to score much and had trouble connecting when she did shoot. She did play very heady defense, particularly when rotating over to provide help on dribble penetration, and remained an absolute monster on the boards. In twenty-two minutes of action, Emily scored 3 points (1-of-4 FG, 1-of-2 FT) and collected 7 rebounds.
Carol Duncan was inserted very briefly in the first half, and had some trouble as the more experienced Boston College posts were able to gain rebounding position on her. When Duncan went back in towards the end of the game, however, she took the ball to the hoop with authority on a very nice post move and generally appeared to be returning to her old aggressive ways. In seven minutes, Carol scored 2 points (1-of-2 FG) and recorded a steal.
Inserted in the final minutes of the first half, Sabrina Keys had an immediate impact. She grabbed an offensive rebound for a quick put-back, then -- on Purdue’s next possession -- scored off a nice feed from Shereka Wright. Because of this strong play, Keys was the first freshman off the bench after the halftime break. Although Sabrina failed to score again, she set screens on offense and also contributed on the defensive end. She accumulated 4 points (2-of-2 FG), 2 rebounds, and 2 turnovers.
Sharika Webb is discovering that passing against teams as athletic as Boston College isn’t as easy as it looks. Webb committed 3 turnovers, mainly because she has not yet learned how to avoid telegraphing where the ball is going. She did continue to draw fouls as she attacked the basket with authority. In seven minutes, Sharika collected 3 points (3-of-4 FT), 1 rebound, and three turnovers.
Missy Taylor enjoyed more court time (13 minutes) than any other Purdue freshman. Perhaps she stayed out there so long because she doesn’t make many mistakes, and knocks down the shots that she’s given without forcing anything. Missy was able to use her long frame to snatch an offensive rebound away from a scrum of shorter players. She also scored 4 points (1-of-1 FG, 2-of-2 FT) and committed a turnover.
Brianna Howard was inserted for the final minute, but otherwise made no impact on the box score. Ashley Mays did not play.
The Boilers bounced back from their first defeat in the best possible way by going into Saturday’s game focused and hungry. The coaching staff deserves the credit for getting the team back on track. After settling for numerous outside shots during each of their previous two games, the Boilers only attempted seven treys Saturday afternoon. This switch from outside to inside emphasis was, no doubt, dictated from the sidelines. By bringing Keys off the bench so early in the second half, Curry rewarded Sabrina’s success while still giving other young Boilers the opportunity to gain game experience.
The athletes made it easy for the officials on Saturday. Rather than commit subtle touch fouls, the Eagles would literally run over Boilers they were covering. In one instance, the woman defending Jones on the wing hit Beth so hard the sound of the slap could be heard throughout Mackey. On the other end, a Purdue player attempting to prevent a shot usually didn’t apply any subtle body pressure. Instead, she’d hack her opponent across both arms. Perhaps aided by these overt demonstrations, the referee and umpires did a very creditable job.
The announced attendance was 6968. By and large, the fans were a quiet bunch, although they did get loud when the Boilers were making the decisive run in the second half.
Winning the next game after a loss always brings some measure of relief by putting to rest the nagging doubts that defeat inevitably brings. The victory over Boston College allowed Purdue to break for Christmas on a good note. The Boilers will all enjoy some time off before resuming practice in time to prepare for Western Michigan’s December 29th visit to Mackey. Because I will be out of town when this game takes place, the next summary column will cover Purdue’s January 2nd contest against the Tulane Green Wave.
Game Ball: Erika Valek