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OldGoldFreePress COLUMNISTS | BACK TO Capri_Small'S COLUMNS

PURDUE WOMENS BASKETBALL:
Purdue 69, Michigan 52





Date: 1/15/2003
Author: Capri_Small
Capri_Small

    The fortunes of the Michigan women have fallen into a strange pattern during the past few years. The Wolverines have done quite well against tough pre-conference competition, generating some buzz and Top 25 votes, only to sputter and underachieve once Big 10 play begins. Sue Guevara's charges have again followed this script. Michigan started off the current season by beating such teams as UC Santa Barbara en route to a 9-2 record and one of the top RPI's in the country. Then, for no apparent reason, the Wolverines stubbed their toes. As they entered Mackey Arena on the afternoon of January 12, they were 0-2 in conference competition. After losing by 28 points at Minnesota, they had hosted Illinois in a televised game and exhibited little fire or motivation in an 89-57 defeat. Guevara must have done her best to get the Maize and Blue worked up to play with more spark against Purdue, as the Wolverines came out very motivated. Perhaps they worked harder than they had in previous contests, but they sure didn't work smarter. Defensive lapses, poor execution, and unforced turnovers all combined to keep the visitors 0 for the Big 10.

    The game started slowly. Each team played a tough zone defense that was difficult for the other to crack. The Boilers employed the 3-2 arrangement that had stymied Boston College on many possessions. At the first media timeout, the hosts' only points had come via two Lindsey Hicks baskets, but Purdue had a 4-2 lead. As has been so often the case in Mackey (but not on the road), Kristy Curry's post players were able to knock down the open high block shots being conceded by the opposition. The Boilers steadily pulled away through the bulk of the first half as the Wolverines stopped themselves with unforced turnovers when not shackled by Purdue's defensive intensity. The reserves in Vegas Gold and Black played well, and the hosts' intensity didn't wane no matter who was on the court. Sharika Webb, in particular, had a sensational first half as she found open teammates for easy buckets on 4 consecutive Purdue possessions. With 2.39 remaining before halftime, the Boilers led by 17. Hicks had already scored 13 points, which equaled the total put up by the visitors from Ann Arbor. The Wolverines had a little bit more success in the final three minutes of the period, but went into the locker room down by 12 points (36-24).

    There's no knowing what Guevara told her charges during the break, but it's safe to say she didn't advise them to commit the turnovers and give up the easy baskets which inspired her to take a timeout two minutes into the second stanza. One sequence that drew Guevara's ire featured Hicks disrupting a Michigan pass to give the Boilers possession and, almost immediately, an easy layup. Next, Erika Valek stole the ball and raced towards the basket on a 1-on-3 break. As she approached the top of the arc, Valek began to stutter-step and slow down. This decision both drew all the defenders towards Erika and gave Beth Jones sufficient time to catch up to the play. When Jones was finally in position, Erika dished a quick pass to Beth for the easy two. When Curry rotated players around Michigan's zone, she discovered that the Wolverines stopped making adjustments, and one Boiler ended up all alone under the basket. While Purdue took advantage of this fact time and time again, the visitors never did adjust particularly well to the motion offense which the hosts rode to a comfortable lead. Halfway through the second period, the score was 53-32. By that time, the Wolverines were so befuddled that they were giving Shereka Wright (who carried the largest share of the Boilers' scoring burden in the half) open lanes to the hoop. In the final ten minutes, play grew increasingly sloppy on both sides. Between turnovers, the teams traded baskets, with Purdue maintaining a comfortable margin on which to coast. With 2:38 remaining and a 66-47 advantage in hand, Curry inserted an all-freshman lineup of Missy Taylor, Carol Duncan, Sabrina Keys, Sharika Webb, and Brianna Howard. The Wolverines could only take enough advantage of the youngsters' inexperience to shave two points off the lead, and the final score was 69-52.

    Comments on specific aspects of the game.

    Offense:
    The Boilers took a while to get going. Once they cracked the seams in Michigan's zone, however, they had little trouble scoring. Purdue shot 45% from the field on the afternoon. The hosts did struggle from the three-point arc, connecting on only 1-of-9 attempts for 11%. The Boilers were particularly successful at generating offense from their defense as Purdue steals led to quick transition buckets. The hosts' points off turnovers outnumbered the visitors', 25-4.

    Defense.
    The most telling statistics of the game might be Michigan's 22 turnovers and Purdue's 12 steals. The Boilers were extremely active in the half-court, and thus prevented the Wolverines from establishing any offensive flow. When the visitors did get the ball in position to score, they did quite well, hitting at a 40% clip from the field both overall and from behind the arc. The Boilers stuck with their zone most of the afternoon, probably because the Wolverines were never able to crack that defense.

    Rebounding:
    Coming into the game, it would have been reasonable to expect the Wolverines to out rebound the Boilers. They feature one of the taller and better frontcourts in the conference, and senior post LeeAnn Bies landed on many a voter's pre-season All-Big Ten first team. Purdue overcame what might have been a Michigan advantage by going aggressively after every carom, and ended up with a 35-28 rebounding edge. Emily Heikes led the way for the Boilers with 7 boards.

    Free Throws:
    Purdue shot extremely well from the charity stripe, connecting on 16-of-19 attempts for 84%. Heikes, Webb, Howard, and Valek were all perfect from the line.

    Passing/Decision-Making:
    For the day, Purdue had 14 assists to 15 turnovers. The Boilers played quite well against Michigan's zone, and repeatedly found the open teammate under the basket. All in all, a very good game for the backcourt.

    Starters:
    Lindsey Hicks was the source of a great deal of speculation in the days between the Boilers' narrow win at Wisconsin and the Michigan game. Lindsey had played poorly on the road, and Curry had been quoted after the loss at Michigan State as saying that the post players were not meeting the coach's expectations. What's more, Heikes had received more minutes in Madison than had Hicks. All indicators pointed to the possibility that Emily would be the Boiler to throw a T-shirt to the fans in Lindsey's place. Curry, however, opted to keep things as they had been. Lindsey responded to the vote of confidence by playing extremely well, particularly in the first half. While her shot was dropping from the high post and everywhere else, Hicks also rebounded and defended with renewed effort. She ended the afternoon with a career-best and game-high 16 points (6-of-11 field-goal attempts, 4-of-5 from the free-throw line). Lindsey also collected 6 rebounds and 2 steals.

    Mary Jo Noon also received some heat for her lackluster play, and also bounced back against the Wolverines. She didn't bounce back quite as high as did Lindsey, but Noon did enjoy a noticeably better outing than she had had in a while. Mary Jo can "catch, turn, and shoot" without putting the ball below her head. It's easy to realize how nice this ability is as you watch Michigan's 6'4" starting center, Jennifer Smith, commit several turnovers by bringing the ball down into reach of the shorter opposing players. Mary Jo recorded 6 points (3-of-7 FG), 3 rebounds, two blocked shots, and a turnover.

    Shereka Wright played within herself and had a quiet game. She seems to be the happiest person in Mackey when she doesn't have to assume Purdue's entire scoring burden. When Michigan forgot about Wright in the second half, however, she was able to drive the baseline for scores or snake through the lane for put-backs. She gets from the top of the key to the basket incredibly quickly, and most defenders are not prepared to stop her. On the afternoon, Shereka had 15 points (5-of11 FG, 0-of-1 from three-point range, 5-of-6 FT), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, and 4 steals.

    In recent days, Beth Jones has echoed the posts' struggles with shooting touch. There has been no talk of replacing Jones in the starting lineup, however. Perhaps the reason Beth has been immune from such speculation is that she obviously gives her all every time she takes the court. Sunday, Jones had another solid outing. Perhaps her most memorable play came when she trapped a Wolverine who was inbounding the ball. Beth was able to disrupt the pass, then take the ball strongly to the hoop for an easy deuce. Beth accumulated 4 points (2-of-6 FG, 0-of-2 treys), 2 rebounds, an assist, and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.

    Erika Valek has her own one-fan cheering section. A spectator who sits behind press row usually waves a large sign on the junior's behalf. Sunday afternoon's placard depicted the Energizer Bunny, and Valek did a credible imitation of the peripatetic rabbit on the court. Erika picked up the opposing point guard at the half-court stripe or sooner on virtually every Michigan trip up the court. She also kept Purdue's offense clicking with numerous skip passes and penetration moves, yet never seemed to tire. When Webb was in the game, Valek spent some time at the "2", and appeared comfortable there as well. Perhaps the best thing about Erika Sunday was the emotion she demonstrated when things were going the Boilers' way. On the afternoon, she logged 12 points (5-of-9 FG, 1-of-3 treys, 1-of-1 FT), 3 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals to 3 turnovers.

    Bench:
    Emily Heikes had her own war with LeeAnn Bies. The extremely physical Michigan post would be all over Emily, seemingly keeping the sophomore in check. When Heikes needed to make a play, however, she shrugged off her defender easily. Emily, whose blue-collar style is winning over the Mackey faithful, was cheered enthusiastically for her efforts. Her most memorable moment occurred when Purdue was trapping as Michigan was attempting to inbound the ball. Valek slowed the intended receiver down, but wasn't able to force a turnover. Then Heikes ran up to the Wolverine, snatched the ball from her arms, and went on in for a score. In 15 minutes' play, Emily recorded 5 points (2-of-4 FG, 1-of-1 FT), 7 rebounds, and 1 steal to 1 turnover.

    Carol Duncan is a whistle magnet. Some players can swing elbows, push opponents off their feet, and hack at each other's arms, all without drawing more than mild interest from the officials. Carol, meanwhile, stands motionless under the basket and gets called for a "hack". In eleven minutes of play Sunday, she was charged with four fouls. Duncan actually did quite well when she was allowed to play. In one notable sequence, Purdue was having trouble getting a shot off. The ball was loose on the floor as the result of multi-player pile up in front of the basket. Carol swooped in and grabbed the sphere, then had the presence of mind to realize that the 30-second clock had almost run out. She put up a smooth shot that hit nothing but net. Duncan finished with 4 points (2-of-3 FG) and 2 rebounds.

    Sharika Webb sees the floor better than any other Purdue player. Time and again, she found a teammate who was all alone and in position to score. Once the Boilers adjust to Webb's bullet passes, she'll certainly be credited with more assists. Since she now relieves Jones at the "2" as well as spelling Valek at the point, Sharika was on the court for 21 minutes Sunday. Webb's line featured 4 points (1-of-3 FG, 0-of-2 treys, 2-of-2 FT), 1 rebound, 6 assists, 1 blocked shot, and 3 turnovers.

    Sabrina Keys came in after Carol Duncan picked up two quick fouls. Sabrina played excellent defense against Michigan's "bigs", but was snake bit when she attempted to score. She whiffed on two layup attempts while going 0-for-3 from the floor, but did pull down 2 rebounds while committing 2 turnovers in her 6 minutes of action.

    Missy Taylor had one wide-open three-point attempt that drew iron but didn't fall. She was fouled taking the ball strongly to the hole, and hit one of her two shots from the charity stripe for her sole point on the afternoon.

    Brianna Howard played for the final two-and-a-half minutes. When the Wolverines made a half-hearted attempt to stop the clock by fouling her, she hit both resulting shots for her 2 points on the day.

    Coaching:
    In response to the past two lack-luster outings, Curry announced that the coaches were going to be a little less positive in their dealings with the team. The resolution to "get on the players" was most evident in the gesticulating demeanor of assistants Pam Stackhouse and Kerry Cremeans, who were "up and pointing" much more than is typical of them. Curry obviously knows the right buttons to push with Lindsey Hicks, and was able to get a great effort from the junior. In a post-game radio interview, Kristy explained that she and her staff have confidence in Hicks, and wanted Lindsey to find some confidence in herself. Curry seemed to understand that relieving Hicks of the starter's role would have been the worst way to accomplish that goal. Lindsey certainly played well after being given another chance to justify the faith placed in her.

    Officiating:
    Had a blind person entered Mackey, he or she could have immediately discerned which team was on offense. When Purdue had the ball, cries of "Over the back! Call 'over the back', for God's sake!" rang out. When the Wolverines gained possession, the refrain switched to "Three seconds! Call the three seconds!" From my seat, however, the referees did an excellent job.
    Crowd:
    The Big 10 regular-season championship banner and trophy for 2001-02 were unveiled during a pre-game ceremony attended by former Boilers Laura Meadows and Kelly Komara, who contributed to the crown as seniors. During the presentation, the Wolverines went back into the locker room, presumably to keep their emotions in check and to prevent them from feeling too intimidated. Didn't seem to work. The announced attendance was 11,387. The place was indeed packed. Since many of those on hand were under 18, the "Take a Kid to the Game" promotion obviously succeeded. The arena was loud and (as is so often the case in Mackey) the large margin did not discourage the majority of the fans from staying until the end. Many of those who hung around attended a post-game signing session and were rewarded with players' autographs.

    In Summary: With the win, the Boilers rise to 2-1 in the conference, 13-2 overall. They next host Penn State, the only team yet to lose in Big 10 play. All the announcers and coaches say that no team will go through the league season undefeated. Here's hoping that the Lady Lions prove all these experts correct on Thursday.

    Game Ball: Lindsey Hicks


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