Big Ten Tournament Semifinal Game
For those who claim that parity has arrived in the Big 10, Iowa might serve as Exhibit A. After losing quite a bit to graduation last spring, the Hawkeyes were further hampered when highly touted freshman guard Lindsay Richards suffered a season-ending knee injury last December. Lisa Bluder’s squad managed to enter the conference tournament with a 14-13 overall record that included a 6-10 mark in league play. Seeded seventh in the tourney, the Hawkeyes drew Northwestern as their opening-day opponent. On March 6, the upstart Wildcats gave Iowa a game for twenty minutes before fading in the stretch and dropping a 70-58 decision at Conseco Fieldhouse. As a reward for the victory, Bluder's charges met second-seeded Minnesota the next day. Nationally ranked (#13 in the Associated Press poll), the Golden Gophers had been projected to contend for the Big 10’s automatic bid before making a serious run for the NCAA Final Four. In the biggest upset of the Big 10 Tournament, however, the Hawkeyes sent the Gophers back to Minneapolis. Pam Borton’s squad had appeared unprepared to defend Iowa’s motion offense, and Hawkeye posts Jennie Lillis and Jamie Cavey were consistently accurate from 15 feet out. Still, Purdue entered Sunday evening’s semifinal contest as a strong favorite after sweeping the regular-season home-and-home series with Iowa City’s own Black and Old Gold. As Bluder’s bunch had demonstrated just two days earlier, however, anything can happen during the tournament.
The Purdue-Iowa game began very much as the Hawkeye-Gopher clash had ended. Relying on Lillis's ability to hit jumpers from anywhere inside the arc, the underdogs came out with a great deal of energy and claimed an early lead by outrunning the surprised Boilermakers. With 13:25
left in the first half, the score was 15-8 in favor of the Hawks. Purdue then got down to business. The Boilers reeled in the Hawkeyes by "D-ing it up" to prevent ball movement and by beating Iowa defenders to the basket on inside drives. With 5:20 to go in the period, an Erika
Valek three-pointer gave the Vegas Gold and Black a 22-21 advantage. Iowa then mustered a final reserve of energy. After reclaiming the lead, Iowa stretched the margin to 31-27 before Purdue surged back yet again. This time the Hawkeyes finally cracked, and Kristy Curry’s club tore off a 10-0 run over the final two minutes of the half. The last two of these points were particularly disheartening for the #7 seed. As the ball went out of bounds under the basket the Boilers were aiming for, the half appeared to end. The officials decided, however, to put 0.4 seconds back on the clock. After several Hawkeyes who had already retired to the locker room for the intermission were rounded up and returned to the court, Purdue ran the only play possible in the situation by lobbing an inbound pass to Mary Jo Noon. Noon made the catch in the key, then got off a buzzer-beating shot. The ball rattled around the rim for a while before falling
through to put the Boilers up 44-32 at the break.
Playing three tough games in four days finally caught up to Iowa as the Hawkeyes completely ran out of gas in the second half. The Boilers, particularly Erika Valek and Shereka Wright, took advantage of this fact as they blew by defenders for easy layups. Before five minutes had been played in the closing stanza, the Boiler lead had mushroomed to 51-36. With seven minutes still to play, the difference had grown to 73-46, and Curry called off the dogs. As Purdue’s starters rested down the stretch, such seldom-used reserves as Sabrina Keys, Brianna Howard, and Hannah Anderson gained tournament experience. In the final two minutes, the Boilers appeared
to be most intent on putting Anderson into the scoring column. With forty seconds left in the game, Hannah was fouled and awarded two free throws. She split the pair to record her first point of the season and earn the loudest cheer of the night from the “Mackey Arena South” faithful. Purdue made no attempt to run up the score against the exhausted Hawkeyes. On the Boilers’ final possession, Sharika Webb even let the shot clock expire shortly before she and her teammates walked off the court with an 84-57 victory.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game
The Boilers shot 46% from the floor for the game, including a 40% success rate from behind the arc. The primary offensive scheme seemed to be to attack the basket off the dribble. As might be expected when Curry employs such a strategy, Valek and Wright took most of the shots.
After connecting on 41% of their field-goal attempts before the intermission, the Hawkeyes hit at a mere 29% clip in the second half en route to a final figure of 35%. The tired Hawks committed 22 turnovers, 11 of which were credited as Purdue steals. Yet the most impressive facets of the victors’ defensive effort were not directly reflected on the stat sheet. The Boilers did an excellent job of preventing cutters from receiving passes on the high block from Iowa’s posts. Curry’s charges also doubled down quickly in order to prevent dribble penetration. Carol Duncan, in particular, caused several traveling violations by quickly getting over to help double-team a hoop-bound Hawkeye.
Purdue won the battle of the boards, 45-37. The Boilers, who generally had more spring in their steps, used their speed to get around the dragging Iowa players. Emily Heikes pulled down a game-high 9 caroms in only 15 minutes of play.
Of Purdue’s 84 points, 26 came from the charity stripe as Curry’s troops connected on 74% of their 35 attempts. Although seven Boilers joined the parade to the line, only Sabrina Keys was perfect as she sank her sole attempt.
Although the Boilers recorded 12 assists to 15 turnovers Sunday, most of the miscues occurred when no Purdue starters were on the court. Overall, the team executed its game plan extremely well.
As the Hawkeyes appeared determined to stop Shereka Wright’s drives by any means necessary, Wright was usually “bodied up” when she took the ball to the hole. Consequently, she shot 14 free throws, and hit 12 to account for nearly half of her points on the evening. With a potential half-dozen games remaining in her junior season, Shereka already holds the Purdue career records for foul shots made (551) and attempted (761). Before she graduates, Wright should put those marks completely out of reach for decades to come. Shereka’s Sunday line featured 28 points (8-of-16 field-goal attempts, 0-of-2 three-point tries, 12-of-14 from the free-throw line), 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and one assist to one turnover.
After experiencing an up-and-down season, Lindsey Hicks emerged as one of the Boilers’ most consistent players during the Big 10 tournament. Lindsey is going for rebounds much more aggressively than she did earlier in the campaign, and her shooting touch has returned as well. The best part of her game Sunday was her ability to see the court and find open teammates. In one of her better outings of the year, Lindsey recorded 6 points (3-of-6 FG, 0-of-1 from three-point range), 6 rebounds, a steal, and 5 assists to one turnover.
Mary Jo Noon, who seemed out of sorts, played a rather passive game on Sunday. Noon’s only field goal was the buzzer-beater that ended the first half. Perhaps she was saving her energies for the championship showdown with Ohio State. Against Iowa, Mary Jo collected 2 points (1-of-3 FG), 2 rebounds, a blocked shot, and a turnover.
Because she didn’t appear to have been assigned a Hawkeye to defend, Beth Jones was free to look for her shot and play a more complete game than is expected when she assumes the role of “designated stopper”. Beth logged the most minutes of any Purdue starter (29) as she spent
several minutes on the court playing “mother hen” to the reserves, keeping her less-experienced teammates from getting flustered as they ran the offensive and defensive sets. Beth ended up with 8 points (3-of-5 FG, 2-of-3 treys), 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists to one turnover.
When Erika Valek was on the floor, she pushed the tempo to take advantage of the fact that she was much too fast for the Hawkeyes to keep up with her. Valek has become quite proficient at going “coast to coast” if no one steps up to stop the ball. With each passing game, she also seems more willing to look for an open teammate instead of forcing a jumper or layup. In a solid performance that helped cement her All-Big 10 Tournament Team selection, Erika notched 15
points (7-of-14 FG, 1-of-2 treys), 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 4 assists to 2 turnovers.
Emily Heikes looked like a solid lioness going up against the sleek, mobile gazelles who play the post for Iowa. When a shot was missed, Heikes was absolutely ferocious in going for the ball, and usually came down with it. Five of her game-high 9 rebounds were offensive boards. When Emily grabbed a stray Purdue attempt, she usually went right back up for a shot, only to get hammered for her efforts. As a result, all of her scoring came from the line. In 15 minutes of play, Emily amassed 5 points (0-of-3 FG, 5-of-8 FT), 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and a turnover.
Sharika Webb got some excellent experience as she was challenged every time she brought the “rock” up the court. Webb initially had a terrible time protecting the ball, but did better as the game wore on. She looked to score much more had been the case in other recent contests, and succeeded at shooting from outside, as well as at drawing fouls when penetrating to the hoop. Sharika recorded 8 points (1-of-3 FG, 1-of-1 from three-point range, 5-of-6 FT), 4 rebounds, a blocked shot, and 2 turnovers.
Carol Duncan remains a fouling machine, and was disqualified after just 13 minutes of play. In between the whistles, however, Duncan played one of her best games as a Boiler. She has very quick feet, and is giving hints of becoming a superior interior defender. Carol twice appeared for the double-team so quickly that she caused a Hawkeye to travel. Duncan was also able to score from close range, a skill that all freshman (as well as a few sophomore, junior, and senior) post players seem to struggle with. Carol finished with 5 points (2-of-2 FG, 1-of-2 FT), 4 rebounds, a
steal, and 3 turnovers.
Missy Taylor has hit a mini-slump. By failing to connect on either of her two field-goal attempts (one from two-point range, one from beyond the arc), she ended up as the only Boiler who failed to score during the game. She did play well within the offense during her 13 minutes on the
court. Taylor also pulled down a rebound, blocked a shot, and committed a turnover.
Sabrina Keys and Brianna Howard appear to be this season’s version of the 2000-01 Beth Jones and Lindsey Hicks. As did Beth and Lindsey as freshmen, Sabrina and Brianna see very little
court time, and do not typically play in close games. When Keys and Howard do enter the lineup, however, they generally do enough positive things to indicate their potential to become solid members of Curry’s rotation. In Sabrina’s 9 minutes Sunday, Keys scored “three the hard way” by making one of her four field-goal attempts, then hitting the free throw she earned by being fouled on the play. She also pulled down a rebound.
During her four minutes of court time, Brianna demonstrated her speed and nose for the ball. As the Hawkeyes were headed up court, she made a steal, then sped in for a breakaway layup. Howard recorded 3 points (1-of-1 FG, 1-of-2 FT), the aforementioned steal, and a turnover.
Halfway through the game’s second stanza, the Purdue pep band began to call for Hannah Anderson to make an appearance. With two minutes to go, the “We want Hannah” chants were replaced by cheers hailing Anderson’s entrance onto the Conseco court. Her teammates then
focused on getting Hannah the ball so that she could score. She was fouled as she shot, and connected on one of the two resulting free throws for her first point of the season. The crowd that had been lulled into a 20-point-margin-induced coma came to life to give the personable sophomore a huge ovation.
Every time the Boilers face Bluder, they seem more able to defend the cutting and passing that defines her offense. Credit for this improvement must go to the Purdue coaching staff’s ability to teach effective counter-strategies. Curry “did right” by the Hawkeyes as she used her reserves for much of the second half and opted not to call for presses or other aggressive defensive strategies once the game was decided. Perhaps her intent was to thank Bluder and the Hawkeyes for knocking off Minnesota.
The best explanation for the number of fouls called in the game is that the officials were being paid on commission for each infraction whistled. In a contest that wasn’t particularly physical, nor even hotly contested during the second half, 47 fouls were somehow identified. The net effect was to prevent any semblance of flow or continuity from developing.
The reported attendance was 6898. Because Iowa's colors are black and Old Gold,
it was difficult to tell where the Purdue fans stopped and Bluder’s Bunch
began. Judging from the cheers, however, the crowd was predominantly a pro-Boiler one.
The win gave Purdue a 25-5 record on the season and a huge dose of momentum
entering the championship game. What’s more, the Boilers evidenced a
growing amount of maturity and unselfishness in the classy way they handled
themselves despite the huge final margin. This maturity produced the composure that served Curry’s charges extremely well the following day as they pulled out the victory over Ohio State by making clutch plays in the final minutes of the championship game.
Game Ball: Lindsey Hicks