The Purdue women’s basketball team has developed a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality of late. Not only are the Boilermakers undefeated at Mackey Arena, they have appeared every bit a Top 10 squad when playing on the familiar hardwood of Keady Court. On the road, however, Kristy Curry’s charges have executed poorly. When on offense, they have sloppily missed shots when not turning the ball over first. As for defense, it has come in two varieties – “poor” and “none”. After losing at Michigan State and Minnesota, the Boilers stood in a hole of their own making as Thursday dawned. With a 3-2 mark in Big Ten contests, Purdue needed to beat the visiting Hawkeyes (2-2) in order to remain in the hunt for the league title. Had the game taken place in Iowa City, the outcome would have been totally up in the air, even though Iowa sported a 10-5 overall mark and was not ranked in any major poll. In the "friendly confines", however, the result seemed ordained from the start.
From the opening tip, the Boilers were “large and in charge”. On offense, they were efficient and appeared relaxed. Four different players combined to score the first four baskets for the hosts. This sort of balance would carry over to other aspects of the game, and would persist for the entire night. Iowa ‘s early ability to remain within striking distance was primarily attributable to the play of Jennie Lillis. Time and again, the Hawkeyes would look stymied on offense, only to be bailed out by the junior forward’s ability to catch, shoot, and score from anywhere within 17 feet of the hoop. At the first media timeout, the home team enjoyed a 12-9 edge. The remainder of the opening half featured alternating mini-runs. Coach Lisa Bluder would see her club go up by a point before the Boilers reclaimed and extended the lead. At the end of twenty minutes, the Vegas Gold and Black had a 45-32 advantage. What would have been a celebratory mood in the arena, however, was tempered by concern for Shereka Wright. Just before intermission, the standout junior had collided with an Iowa player and gone down in a heap. Wright remained on the court long after the other players had filed into the locker room. When Shereka did finally get up, she was in obvious pain. She would not reenter the game
Wright's absence did allow freshman Sharika Webb to start the second half and receive valuable playing time down the stretch. Lillis and teammate Kristi Faulkner were able to create enough shots to rack up big individual numbers, but Purdue’s lead was never threatened. With a little more than nine minutes remaining, Missy Taylor hit two consecutive three-point field goals. She then topped off her personal mini-run by hitting a layup that widened the hosts’ advantage to 13 (67-54) and put the game totally out of reach. The final score was 83-64.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Boilers shot at a 51% clip from the floor for the game, hitting 31% of their 16 attempts from behind the three-point line. The team did an excellent job of mixing up looks and distributing the ball to open players. With the exception of the final ten minutes of the game, a typical Purdue possession produced points via the efficient running of an offensive set. Particularly encouraging were the performances of the
five reserves Curry employed on the night.
Bluder lives and dies by the triangle offense. Purdue has scouted Iowa well enough to be able to counter her strategy to the point of shutting it down. A Hawkeye who made a cut to the goal generally found herself shadowed by a Boiler determined to prevent an easy basket. The visitors committed 16 turnovers, 10 of which were credited as Purdue steals. Iowa hit 42% of its shots from the floor, including 30% of those launched from beyond the arc.
Purdue is emerging as an excellent rebounding team. Thursday, the Boilers pulled down 40 boards to the 27 grabbed by the visitors from Iowa City. Especially noteworthy were the 15 caroms Curry’s charges grabbed off the offensive glass. These led to a large number of second-chance opportunities – and points. It was a total team effort as each woman who took the court in Vegas Gold and Black pulled down at least one rebound. Lindsey Hicks garnered a team-leading 7.
Since Purdue connected on an amazing 89% of its free-throw attempts, it was a pity that the Boilers were only awarded 9 charity tosses during the contest. Lindsey Hicks, Mary Jo Noon, Beth Jones, and Erika Valek all joined the 100% club for the game.
Any team that records a positive assist/turnover ratio is likely to win. On Thursday, the victorious Boilers provided support for this argument by dishing out 18 assists while committing only 15 turnovers. In the second half, Valek compensated for Wright’s absence by taking over the game. When challenged by defenders, Erika distributed the ball to the right people. When not challenged, she scored. In short, Valek completely dictated the tempo of the contest.
During her time on the court, Shereka Wright played her usual brand of superior basketball. When she had the ball, the Iowa defense threw a lot of players at her, and Wright responded by finding the teammate who had been left unguarded. To the 3 assists she recorded in her 17 minutes of play, Shereka added 7 points (3-of-6 field-goal attempts, 1-of-2 free-throw tries), 4 rebounds, and a blocked shot. Immediately after the game, it was reported that Wright had injured her left wrist. In the course of a day, the official medical opinion went from “not broken” to “broken and out 6-8 weeks”, then to “broken, but only out 2-3 weeks”, and finally to “broken, but can play with a brace”. It has not been reported when Shereka can be expected to play without pain in her non-shooting arm, however. She elected to sit out Sunday‘s game at Northwestern, and must be considered day-to-day.
Erika Valek took advantage of Iowa’s passive defense all night. One minute, she’d snake through the forest of immobile Hawkeyes to make a layup; soon after, she’d merely pull up and hit a jump shot in front of the “trees”. In one of her better games this year, Erika excelled at getting the ball into the hands of other Boilers when, and where, her teammates could do the most damage. Although Valek played 36 minutes, her
energy level never flagged as she tallied a career-high 26 points (12-of-20 FG, 0-of-3 three-point attempts, 2-of-2 FT). Erika also had 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, and 3 turnovers.
Mary Jo Noon was white as a ghost and appeared to be in some distress on the bench. When Curry was interviewed after the game, the coach confirmed that Mary Jo was not feeling well. During the 15 minutes of court time Noon managed to log, however, she played quite well. The Hawkeyes’ offensive strategy was to pull her to the top of the key and then blow by her. In most instances, Mary Jo was able to defend successfully against this ploy. She finished with 7 points (3-of-4 FG, 1-of-1 FT), 4 rebounds, and a blocked shot to 2 turnovers.
Although Lindsey Hicks has taken heat for her play in road games, she has redeemed herself at Keady Court. On Thursday, the shooting touch that had abandoned her returned, and she was consistently able to hit her mid-range jumpers. Lindsey also played very well defensively, and appeared to be well prepared for Iowa’s offensive scheme. Lindsey accumulated 10 points (4-of-6 FG, 2-of-2 FT), a game-high 7 rebounds, and a turnover.
Beth Jones could not find the range offensively. The Hawkeyes did not do a great job getting out on her, but distracted her enough to prevent her from hitting treys. Jones did effectively join the Boiler defense’s attempt to contain Faulkner. By cutting off the passing lanes and denying the other Hawkeyes, the Purdue guards left Kristi no option but to shoot the ball. Faulkner responded quite well in exploding for a game-best 27 points, but was not able to record a single assist. Beth’s major contribution this season has been her overall consistency, which provides a stabilizing force for her teammates even when her shot is not falling. In 32 minutes Thursday, she tallied 5 points (1-of-10 FG, 1-of-7 three-pointers, 2-of-2 FT), 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals to 6 turnovers.
Called on to spell “Shereka Senior” during the second half, Sharika Webb logged 22 minutes in all. In her time on court, Webb began to look comfortable as she contributed both offensively and defensively. Several of her passes were off the mark to the point of producing "almost" turnovers, but Sharika basically did a commendable job. One thing Webb manages to do as well as any player is to “stuff the stat sheet” by doing a little bit of everything. On Thursday, her line featured 8 points (3-of-7 FG, 2-of-4 treys), 1
rebound, 2 assists, and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Given Lindsey’s strong play and Mary Jo’s illness, it was not surprising that Emily Heikes played center during the bulk of her 22 minutes. Against Iowa’s scheme, Emily is still learning how to defend the cutters, but is fast enough to prevent dribble penetration when Hawkeye posts attempt to "take her to the hole". Emily recorded 8 points (4-of-9 FG), 3 rebounds, and a turnover.
Carol Duncan, who has regained much of the aggression that she demonstrated at the beginning of the season, played with a great deal of confidence. When she was on the court, Duncan owned the low block. She also evidenced good court vision by throwing an excellen tpass for her one assist of the night. In her twelve minutes, Carol also had 2 points (1-of-3 FG) and 3 rebounds.
Missy Taylor’s flurry of three quick baskets in the second half proved to be the “backbreaker” that put the game completely out of the Hawkeyes’ reach. As did Carol and Sharika, Missy looked a great deal more comfortable on the court than she had in other recent outings. Taylor still lacks side-to-side mobility over a year after suffering the ACL injury that sidelined her as a high-school senior, but her overall athleticism was in evidence Thursday. In her 13 minutes, Missy notched 8 points (3-of-3 FG, 2-of-2 treys) and 1 rebound.
It is pretty clear that when an official does not recognize a player, said official performs a "welcome to the Big 10" ritual that consists of whistling said player for a foul whenever the athlete is anywhere within a 10-foot radius of the ball. Carol Duncan went through this, and now Sabrina Keys is experiencing it as well. In one notable sequence, Keys stood motionless as an out-of-control Hawkeye came flying into her. Sabrina, of course, was the woman charged with the infraction. When not being called for one of her three fouls, however, Sabrina did quite well. Her offensive game has not yet caught up to her defensive presence, but she echoes her freshman classmates in appearing to be increasingly comfortable on the court. In 8 minutes, Sabrina was credited with 2 points (1-of-1 FG) and 2 rebounds.
Brianna Howard did not play.
Note to Kristy Curry: The youngsters can’t "step up" without first "stepping onto" the court. Prior to the game, the coaches were quite critical of the freshmen’s collective inability to contribute. In the Lafayette Journal and Courier, the staff was quoted as saying that the first-year players hadn’t elevated their level of play enough to allow the starters any rest. These comments had to be directed towards the effort exerted in practice, because not even the most expert coach can evaluate appearances of 2 or 3
minutes, let alone “DNP‘s”. Given Noon’s illness and Wright’s injury, Curry had no choice but to play her reserves more minutes than is typical. To a woman, the members of the class of 2006 played quite tentatively at first. Once a freshman remained on the court after her first "yankable" error, however, she invariably seemed to relax and play well. The Boilers were extremely well prepared for Iowa, and seemed to know the visitors’ offensive sets better than the Hawkeyes themselves did.
It stunk. The officials did not appear biased in any way. Of the two obvious double dribble violations that passed unnoticed, one was by a Boiler, the other by a Hawkeye. The foul calls were fairly even – 13 charged to Iowa, 15 to Purdue – but often inappropriate. The crew was just plain bad.
The official attendance was 6982. This number appeared to be inflated, as quite a few regulars opted not to brave Thursday’s bitter cold. The Gold Rush section was out in force, however. The student members provide a very welcome addition to the game atmosphere.
With the win over Iowa and Sunday’s subsequent victory at Northwestern, Purdue (now 5-2 in conference play) remains in the thick of the Big 10 hunt. The main factor determining whether a three-peat is in the offing may be Shereka Wright’s ability to play with a hurt wrist. Her absence neither prevented the Boilers from finishing off the Hawkeyes nor proved insurmountable in Evanston. January 30’s visit to Champaign will provide a much stiffer test for Curry’s troops, who may need all of Shereka‘s skills -- and then some -- to prevail at Illinois.
Game Ball: Erika Valek