Although Purdue is not often credited as a cradle of women’s basketball coaches, an examination of various colleges’ staffs quickly reveals that a large number of sideline leaders have spent time in West Lafayette. For example, 1985 Purdue graduate Kelli Layman is now spending her seventeenth season as an assistant to North Dakota State’s Amy Ruley, a former Boiler who has led the Bison to five NCAA Division II titles. Layman’s official bio notes that Kelli won the Red Mackey Award during her senior season in West Lafayette. Missing from the sketch, however, is this factoid: Layman was a member of the squad when Purdue most recently lost to Illinois in the arena named for Mackey. Of the players who appeared in last Sunday’s box score, four Boilers -- Brianna Howard, Sabrina Keys, Missy Taylor, and Sharika Webb – had not yet been born that 22nd day of January 1984. Neither had the Fighting Illini’s Maggie Acuna, Brittney Daugherty, Janelle Hughes, or Jessica Wright. Entering Sunday’s game, many observers wondered just how the Illinois brain trust (which happens to feature Purdue alumna Jennifer Jacoby) would finally snap the program’s Keady Court losing streak. After the Boilers’ convincing victory, that question must remain unanswered for at least one more year.
The tone of the contest was set in the first minute of play. After securing the opening tip, Purdue drew first blood when Shereka Wright cut to the low block and made a relatively uncontested basket. A Mary Jo Noon layup with 17:22 left in the opening half put Kristy Curry’s club up 8-6, and the hosts would retain the lead for the rest of the afternoon. Curry's plan to give extra playing time to her bench was hurried along when Erika Valek committed two charging fouls before seven minutes had elapsed. The point guard sat down for the rest of the half, leaving the often-beleaguered Sharika Webb to run the team. Purdue’s offensive flow wasn’t quite as smooth under the freshman's guidance, but Webb’s fail-safe game plan of passing the ball to Shereka Wright almost always put points on the home side of the scoreboard. For most of the half, Shereka and Mary Jo combined to dominate on the offensive end. As the visitors were unable to simultaneously double-team both Wright and Noon, the Boilers excelled at taking advantage of the mismatches that regularly occurred. Meanwhile, Purdue got back on defense quickly enough to deny the Illini transition scoring opportunities, forcing Theresa Grentz's charges to attempt – and struggle -- to score out of half-court sets. After the first twenty minutes, the score was 44-31 in Purdue's favor.
As the second stanza began, it was obvious that the Illinois staff’s halftime message had been for the Orange and Blue to attempt to increase the game's tempo and to make shots in transition. Angelina Williams, in particular, succeeded at taking the ball coast to coast and producing points before the Boiler defenders could react. Unfortunately for the visitors, they did not complement their scoring push with any increase in defensive intensity, and Purdue was able to maintain its lead by answering the Illini basket for basket. After four minutes of frenetic up-and-down activity, Grentz’s club ran out of gas and returned to its first-half pace. The Boilers, meanwhile, kept picking up steam. Able to score on several breakaway layup opportunities, the hosts enjoyed a 77-58 lead with five minutes left to play. Owing, perhaps, to the large number of reserves on the court by that time, Purdue proceeded to finish out the game with some extremely sloppy play. This breakdown allowed the Illini to make up some ground and reduce their deficit to a more respectable 12 points (79-67) by the time the final buzzer sounded.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
It was the Mary Jo and Shereka show as Noon and Wright combined for 45 of the Boilers’ 79 points. Both pacesetters were able to score on layups and short jumpers, helping Purdue record 40 points in the paint to Illinois's 22. On the day, the hosts shot at a 49% clip from the floor, and hit 40% of the three-point goals they attempted.
Initially, it looked as if the afternoon would be a long one for the defenders in Vegas Gold and Black. On Illinois’s first possession, Angelina Williams blew by both Noon and Lindsey Hicks for a layup. The next time the Illini had the ball, Karen Hagberg was the only player within 5 feet of the basket as she grabbed an offensive rebound and effortlessly scored on the put-back. After the opening minutes, however, Purdue was able to "D" it up much more effectively. Although the Boilers had their greatest success when they employed a zone, their man-to-man efforts also improved over the course of the game. Illinois hit 41% of its shots from the field, including 44% of those launched from behind the arc. The visitors committed 15 turnovers, 8 of which were credited as Boiler steals.
Purdue had a huge 42-26 advantage on the boards. With the exception of Brianna Howard, who appeared only during the final minute, each Boilermaker who played pulled down at least one rebound. Boxing out appeared to be a point of emphasis, as each host player was generally able to "put a body" on her “man” whenever a shot went up. The tallest Boiler (Noon) and shortest (Erika Valek) tied for team honors as each grabbed 7 caroms.
What a difference a year makes. Last season, the Boilers were mediocre at best from the charity stripe, making less than 70% of their attempts in many games. In contrast, the 2002-03 Purdue squad is excellent from the line (76.4%), and enhanced its reputation Sunday by making its first 19 free throw attempts before missing its final one. Shereka Wright, Mary Jo Noon, and Emily Heikes all contributed perfect performances to the overall 95% effort.
Purdue recorded 18 assists to 19 turnovers. The vast majority of giveaways resulted from Valek’s and Webb’s poorly considered passes into the post. With the exception of this penchant for ill-advised entry tosses, the Boilers generally made good decisions and plays until the ragged final minutes.
ESPN2's crack staff of statisticians kept track of what went on every second the ball was in play. At the end of the game, it was reported that Shereka Wright had touched the ball 29 times and produced 24 points. This gives a touch to point ratio (TPR) of 1.2/1. Judging from how well Wright played, this is a very efficient figure. Shereka did not appear to be hampered by her injured left wrist. Rather, she looked extremely comfortable as she scored at will. After the entire Illinois team converged on Wright in an attempt to prevent a layup, Shereka made her most impressive play of the day as she shoveled an assist to Noon, who was all alone under the basket. Because the Purdue reserves performed well, Shereka was on the court for a “mere” 31 minutes. Judging from Wright’s comfort and effectiveness, this amount of playing time is ideal for the star junior. In all, Shereka recorded 24 points (9-of-15 field-goal attempts, 6-of-6 free throws), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 blocked shot, and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.
Mary Jo Noon played with energy, intensity, and emotion. In one of her better outings of the season, she was repeatedly able to make bunnies after "out-talling" and out-positioning Illinois posts. At a post-game reception for BOILERmaker NETwork members, Noon said that the defeat at Penn State served as her wake-up call, and that she doesn't plan to lose again before her senior year ends. If she brings Sunday’s level of intensity and fight to future contests, she'll go a long way toward keeping the Boilers on a winning track. Mary Jo finished with 21 points (7-of-10 FG, 7-of-7 FT), 7 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots to 2 turnovers.
Lindsey Hicks appears better suited to playing in transition than in the half court. When the pace is a speedy one, Hicks gets out on the break, finds her teammates with excellent passes, and generally takes advantage of her athleticism. In contrast, she still has a disturbing tendency to lose track of her assigned player when Purdue’s opponent opts for a deliberate tempo. Lindsey's rebounding technique has improved quite a bit over the past few months, and she boxed out extremely well Sunday. In one notable sequence, she appeared to be trapped under the basket, but salvaged the possession with a reverse layup for two points. Lindsey accumulated 8 points (4-of-10 FG, 0-of-2 from three-point range), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, and one turnover.
Rather than force an attempt, Beth Jones would prefer not to shoot. Because she is now viewed as a legitimate deep threat at all times (funny how hitting 5 three-pointers in a game, as Beth did at Illinois last month, can yield such great respect), Jones was not allowed to camp out and bomb away from behind the arc Sunday. Because she received more attention than she had in Champaign, Beth put up very few shots. She did spend some time at point guard, and said in a post-game interview that she last played that position when she was in the fourth grade. Nevertheless, she redeemed herself quite well, and withstood a fair amount of defensive pressure as she brought the ball up the court. Beth's best play was a shot block and steal that led to an easy transition basket for the hosts. In a quiet afternoon's work, Beth notched 5 points (2-of-4 FG, 1-of-2 treys), 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
After Erika Valek picked up two quick offensive fouls, she sat for most of the first period. When Valek returned to the court as the second half opened, the Illini seemed to forget that she was out there. Left completely open, Erika quickly struck for a couple of treys. Although she made some uncharacteristic forced passes once the Boilers began to lose focus after building a 20-point lead, Erika turned in a good overall performance as she logged 6 points (2-of-8 FG, 2-of-4 three-point attempts), 7 rebounds, a steal, 5 assists, and 5 turnovers.
Emily Heikes is developing what is, for a reserve, the rare and wonderful ability to consistently give her best effort for however many minutes of court time she is allotted. Although you never know what you’ll get on any given night from the typical player on this Purdue team, Emily’s invariably high level of play represents a welcome exception to this rule. On Sunday, she demonstrated her ability to get out and finish the break. With her characteristically aggressive play being augmented by a tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, however, Heikes picked up 4 fouls in her 11 minutes of action. Fortunately, she also managed to score 6 points (2-of-4 FG, 2of--2 FT), pull down 2 rebounds, and steal the ball once.
Missy Taylor had what was, by several orders of magnitude, her best game as a Boilermaker. Taylor played within herself, as well as within the overall offensive flow. She made good decisions with the ball, moved it well, and demonstrated great court vision. Perhaps Missy’s greatest improvement was in her defensive effort, as she matched up extremely well with Illinois’s tall guards and was quite effective both in preventing dribble penetration and in altering shots. Because she is so tall and has such long arms, Taylor looks awkward when she handles the ball. This appearance is deceiving, however, as Taylor has a nice touch. On Sunday, she made few errors as she recorded 5 points (2-of-4 FG, 1-of-2 treys), 3 rebounds, and 2 assists to 1 turnover.
Because of Valek’s early foul troubles, Sharika Webb played more minutes (21) than has been the norm for the freshman. Upon entering the game, Sharika immediately committed a turnover by throwing the ball directly to Wright – Jessica Wright, a former teammate of Webb’s at Indianapolis Cathedral High, but now a member of the Illinois squad. It is certainly possible that Sharika momentarily forgot that Jessica is now “the enemy”. At any rate, Webb soon settled down, and contributed some solid minutes. She is still in the steep learning curve portion of her collegiate career, however, and needs to make better decisions when charged with running the offense. Overall, Sharika did begin to look comfortable out on the floor. Although her own line was less than stellar, the Boilers were able to run up a sizable lead when Webb was in the game. Sharika missed the lone shot she took, a two-point attempt, but did offset her 5 turnovers by pulling down 5 rebounds, handing out an assist, and making a steal.
Carol Duncan provided some solid minutes, and can certainly build on Sunday’s performance in future outings. In her most impressive sequence, Duncan was able to use her hustle and jumping ability to snare an offensive rebound. Once she secured the ball, several Illinois defenders quickly trapped her. Despite being under considerable pressure, Carol made a neat bounce pass to a wide-open Missy Taylor, who was able to convert the opportunity into an easy deuce. Fouled on each of her (unofficial) field-goal attempts, Duncan did all her scoring by hitting 4 of the 5 charity tosses she was granted. Carol also notched 3 rebounds, an assist, and a turnover in her 10 minutes of action.
Although the box score only credits her with 2 minutes of playing time, Sabrina Keys appeared to log more court time than that. The pieces still haven’t fallen into place for Sabrina. Like her freshman classmates, however, she did appear more at ease than had been the case in earlier games. Keys committed a turnover and went 0-for-1 from the floor (a two-point attempt), but did manage to pull down a rebound.
Brianna Howard provided a small spark off the bench, but her box score line of zeroes was broken only by the “1” in the “Minutes” column. Hannah Anderson did not play.
As head coach Kristy Curry made substitutions, she appeared to have one eye focused on upcoming post-season play. Curry thus gave more minutes to her bench than she had in the past several games, and let the reserves play through their mistakes. Meanwhile, Missy Taylor saw some time in the power forward slot, and Beth Jones played point guard for a spell. The latter decision was, no doubt, driven by the two early fouls charged to Valek. Still, Beth’s ability to run the team suggests that Erika’s forced absence may have been one of those “blessings in disguise” to which Curry so often alludes.
The Illinois bench didn't care for a few calls, the Purdue bench was up in arms on other occasions, and the crowd felt that a few whistles were undeserved. Overall, however, the officiating was very good.
The official attendance of 7646 appeared to be a fairly honest count, as many of the Boiler faithful indeed braved the snow and cold to cheer on the Old Gold and Black. Nobody appeared to hold former Purdue star Jennifer Jacoby’s defection to the dark side against her, as Jacoby received one of the largest cheers of the afternoon when announced as one of the Illinois assistants. Also "in the house" as the color commentator for ESPN2’s telecast was the Detroit Shock's Swin Cash. Those who watched “The Deuce’s” broadcast might not remember the name of the top point producer on the day, or even the final score. But the viewers will, no doubt, long remember that the Fighting Illini’s Cindy Dallas originally hails from Pittsburgh (just like Swin!), as this important bit of information was repeated more frequently than are auto dealer Bob Rohrman’s commercials during Lafayette CBS station WLFI’s local news updates.
With Sunday’s victory, Purdue hits the 20-win plateau for the sixth consecutive campaign, and ensures a ticket to the upcoming NCAA tournament. Unlike in past years, the Boilers do not have to worry about doing well enough to ensure that Mackey will play host to opening-round games during the “Big Dance”. As did fifteen other institutions, Purdue bought its pre-determined home-court advantage in the last off-season. In any event, a top-4 seed appears – barring a total collapse – to be assured for Curry’s charges.
With Penn State's defeat at Iowa Sunday, the door to a Boiler Big 10 championship remains ajar. For Purdue to secure a portion of the crown, the Lady Lions must lose one more game – a possibility that has a distinct chance of coming to pass, as a visit to Minnesota looms for Rene Portland’s club. Meanwhile, Purdue must win out. The Boilers will have two extremely challenging road contests of their own, however, as they travel to Columbus for a rematch with Ohio State on February 23, and finish the regular season at Iowa on March 2. The next challenge on Purdue’s docket, however, is a surprisingly good Michigan State team. The Spartans defeated the Boilers last month in East Lansing, and Purdue would like nothing better than to return the favor Thursday at Mackey Arena.
Game Ball: Shereka Wright