Purdue 79, Kansas State 69
The Kansas State women’s basketball program is a media darling, perhaps because they are a classic rags to riches story with a little bit of “Hoosiers” mixed in. Head coach Deb Patterson took over the program when it was a perennial Big XII cellar dweller. She then paid her dues as the team experienced several miserable seasons due to injury and lack of depth even as she was building up the talent in Manhattan. When local recruits Nicole Ohlde, Kendra Wecker, and Laurie Koehn were all finally healthy and experienced the team burst onto the national scene. The Wildcats are more than Ohlde, Wecker, and Koehn, however. Forward Megan Mahoney only gets a fraction of the attention enjoyed by the “big three”, but she was named All-Big XII last season and could start for just about any team in the country. The Wildcats experienced a second round NCAA exit in 2003, but this season Patterson had all five starters returning and had also added enough freshman talent to finally provide some depth. The Purple and White were ranked as high as third in one pre-season poll, and entered Mackey ranked 5th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll. It’s no wonder the ‘Cats had a bit of a swagger when they stepped onto Keady Court to take on Purdue for the second game of the State Farm Tip-Off Classic.
Once the regular season began, K-State had a total of one minute to feel great about itself. That was when they won the opening tip and got the ball to their All-American center Nicole Ohlde on the high block. The Wildcats ran the triangle offense to perfection as she found a cutter in the lane for the Wildcat's easiest basket of the afternoon. Purdue then set the tone for the remainder of the day on their first possession, however, when Emily Heikes out-quicked the Wildcat posts, got in position on the low block, and converted the entry pass for an easy score - and one. When she converted the free throw Purdue went out to its first lead of the game - 3-2. Purdue's pressure defense forced the Cats into a hurry-up offense and they looked out of synch for most of the afternoon. Kendra Wecker can create shots out of nothing while shooting guard Laurie Koehn was virtually automatic when left unguarded. Between the two of them K-State was able to play even with the Boilers for first half of the opening stanza.
K-State then switched to a zone defense with about 10 minutes on the clock. The goal was to prevent interior penetration as Purdue was benefiting from getting lots of close-in shots. The Boilers immediately recognized that the perimeter was now open. They got the ball to Beth Jones who connected on three straight treys. Deb Patterson's charges were able to answer with field goals, but the damage had been done and the Boilers were able to stretch a close lead to 8 points - 24-16. The visitors took a time out to regroup with 9:24 to play, and the teams alternated baskets for the remainder of the half. Perhaps the one play of the first half which best illustrates Purdue's opportunistic and aggressive approach to the game occurred with 7 seconds remaining on the clock. Twiggy McIntyre shot and made a free throw that she had been rewarded after an extremely questionable blocking foul had been whistled on Emily Heikes. Purdue immediately got the ball inbounds to Erika Valek at the half court stripe. Erika then found Heikes streaking for the transition basket. The Boilers had added two points to their total before the Wildcats knew what hit them. The uncontested lay-up put Purdue up by 6 at intermission - 41-35.
As one might expect from a top program, K-State came out of the locker room with renewed focus and intensity. They mustered up some interior defense, forcing Purdue into poor shots on one end while getting the ball in the hands of their scoring aces on the other. The Purple and White methodically chipped away, and with 16 minutes remaining regained the lead at 43-44. The Boilers did not appear to be rattled by their inability to maintain the advantage and got back to work. The K-State lead lasted less than a minute as Lindsey Hicks connected on a tough jump shot to push Purdue back up by one. It was then that Katie Gearlds came alive, both scoring on her own and setting up her teammates. Next Shereka Wright went to work, scoring on three unanswered possessions. When the dust had settled Curry's charges were up by 17 points and there was a little more than 5 minutes left to go. K-State had one last run in them, however. For the first time all game they were able to get behind the Purdue posts for easy buckets. The Boilers aided in the run by missing the front end of several one on one baskets. In two minutes time the Wildcats had cut the lead to 9 points. The home team refocused and went back to playing tough "D" and making free throws for the remaining three minutes. The final score was 79-69.
Comments of Specific Aspects of the Game:
The word that best described the Boiler's offensive efforts was opportunistic. Purdue excelled at taking what K-State gave them. The primary focus appeared to be getting high percentage shots in the paint, but when the visitors collapsed into a zone, they could nail shots from further away as well. And, if the Wildcats didn’t get back quickly enough, the Boilers would burn them in transition. What greatly aided the Boilers in this effort was the fact that every player on the floor was a threat to score and needed to be guarded honestly. This balance was reflected in the box score as Purdue had 5 players in double figures for the game. Overall the Boilers shot 53% for the game, 56% from behind the arc.
When the triangle offense is working well, it looks unstoppable. When it is well guarded, it looks like Kansas State on Sunday. The post player who receives the ball will be stuck on the top of the key with nobody to pass to but too far away from the basket to do much else except jack up a desperation jump shot. The Boilers mixed up zone and man to man looks, but were able to maintain constant ball pressure for all 40 minutes everywhere on the court. The Wildcats were held to 40% shooting including a dismal 22% from behind the arc.
K-State won the battle of the boards, 37-36. They had Kendra Wecker to thank as she nabbed a game high 11 while the rest of the team combined for 26. In contrast, rebounding was well distributed among the Boilers with 4 players pulling down at least 5 boards. Heikes recorded a team-high 7 rebounds.
The one place the Boilers revealed their first-game jitters was at the free throw line. The team went 14-21 for 67%. No doubt the conversion percentage will increase as the players gain a few more minutes experience on the young season. As befits her overall excellent game, Emily was the sole Boiler to be perfect from the line going 3-3.
If one had to pick the one statistic that explained the Boiler's win, they'd be hard pressed choosing between the team's 22 assists to 12 turnovers or the team's 22 assists to 30 made baskets. Both are excellent figures, and are an indication that the team played an extremely smart and controlled brand of ball. Particularly heartening was that fact that there was no fall off between the starters and bench players, and the team played at a high level no matter who was on the court at any given time.
The primary story line for the game was the contrast between the starting centers. 6’5” Nicole Ohlde - the current Women's Basketball Magazine cover girl, first team All-American, and projected first round draft pick - finished the day with 9 points and 3 rebounds. Meanwhile, 6’ 0” Emily Heikes - who has been dissed and dismissed for months prior to her first start - racked up 11 points and 7 boards. The real story, of course, wasn't her offensive output as much as her ability to handle a taller player without much help. This allowed the Purdue perimeter players to stay out on K-State's shooters, effectively sealing the Wildcat's fate. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Emily's game was that despite the Ohlde hype, the first start, and the fact she was burned by some truly awful calls, she was able to play a focused, effective game. Her 11 points came on 4-6 shooting from the field and 3-3 from the free throw line. Emily also contributed and assist and a steal in her 24 minutes play.
Lindsey Hicks didn't get the post game attention, but it was her defensive efforts that prevented Wecker from getting many touches. Hicks hit some difficult inside shots, but perhaps her best play of the afternoon was the strong "not in my house" block that resulted in a Boiler transition basket. In all Hicks recorded a total of 8 points (3-9, 0-1 3pt.ers, 2-3 FT), 6 rebounds, a block and a steal to one turnover.
Beth Jones played an extremely intelligent game. She never forced anything, but didn't hesitate to pull the trigger when she had the opportunity. Her three straight three point baskets in the first half rattled the Wildcats, scaring them out of any thoughts of a zone defense. This, in turn, kept the lane open for Purdue penetration. Off the ball Beth played with her usual gritty intensity. In all Beth had 12 points (4-4 3 pt.ers 0-1 FT), 1 rebound, and 2 assists to no turnovers.
Erika brightened visibly when she saw someone in the crowd waving a Columbian flag during player introduction. And perhaps that can be credited for her stellar play. Valek looks to be coming into her own as a floor general. Se dictated the game’s tempo at all times and kept her troops in line. When K-State appeared rattled she push the ball up fast, but when Purdue began going out of control she'd slow things down again and refocus the team. Erika is being mentioned as one of the top candidates for the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award - annually given to the most outstanding player shorter than 5'8." One hopes she begins getting mentioned for honors with no height restrictions as well. In all Erika totaled 16 points (6-9, 1-1 3 pt.ers, 3-4 FT), 3 rebounds, and 7 assists to 5 turnovers.
For the first time in three years Shereka Wright is able to take what is given and not force shots in order for the Boilers to win a tough game. She repeated the trend established last season and got stronger and more effective as the minutes went by. At the end of the day her stat. line was stuffed although it's difficult to pin point the exact moment she began to dominate the game. It also appears as if the officials have decided that she gets too many bail outs as they swallowed their whistles when she took the ball to the rack. Although this may result in fewer trips to the free throw line this year, it may prepare Wright for professional play in a way few other things can. At the end of the afternoon Shereka had tallied a total of 16 points (5-13, 6-7 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, a block, and a steal to 2 turnovers.
It didn’t take long for Katie Gearlds to grab the attention of the crowd or the television announcers. She was pronounced the player of the game for her efforts by the ESPN 2 crew. And while one might quibble that other Boilermakers were more consistent, there’s no denying that Gearlds has already established herself as amazing talent. One of Katie’s first moves was a picture perfect bounce pass to Erika Valek in the paint. It arrived at just the right time and place for Erika to be able to score without breaking rhythm. After failing to connect in the first half, Gearlds went 5-7 in the second for 10 points. What may have been her best play of the day, however, was when she found Beth Jones all alone behind the arc in transition. Katie began to celebrate the trey before Beth had released the ball, a gesture that brought the crowd to its feet and a time out from the K-State bench. In her first collegiate game, Katie recorded a total of 10 points (5-10, 0-1 3 pt.er, 0-1 FT), 5 rebounds, and 6 assists to 1 turnover.
Erin Lawless’ first game was also eagerly anticipated by the Boiler faithful, and, like Katie, she did not disappoint. Interior defense is one of the more difficult skills to master, but Erin redeemed herself extremely well in this regard. Erin also demonstrated her shooting touch as all three of her makes were tough shots to get down. One of Erin’s best traits is her competitive nature, and she looked extremely confident on the court. The only evidence of freshman nerves was a missed free throw. The Boilers will be a great deal of fun to watch for the next four years, and Erin is a big reason why. In all Erin recorded 6 points (3-5, 0-2 FT), 3 rebounds and 3 assists to 1 turnover.
Ashley Mays provided excellent on ball pressure. She had little problem keeping up with Twiggy McIntyre, K-State’s fastest player, and never allowed her to enter a comfort zone. Mays was snake bit offensively as she took the ball in on a very pretty drive only to be called for an extremely questionable charge. One hopes Mays remains positive and will continue to take the rock to the hole with authority. Ashley did not score in her one attempt, but did record an assist to one turnover.
Sharika Webb ran the point in a very capable fashion when she was on the court. She was able to record a steal during her three minutes of playing time.
Carol Duncan was on the court for 12 minutes and in that time concentrated on one thing alone – defending tough in the paint. She did not look to score at all, but was able to keep the clamps on the K-State posts. In that regard there was no drop off at all from the starters. Carol was credited for a blocked shot and a turnover.
Indi Johnson, Sabrina Keys, and Hannah Anderson did not play.
One couldn’t ask for a better coaching job from the Boiler bench. Every K-State player was well scouted, and the Boilers appeared to be completely prepared for everything the Wildcats threw their way. The players appeared to be well coached on another level as well, as in virtually every instance the Vegas Gold and Black boxed out, passed well, and took high percentage shots.
You say “tomato”, I say “to-mah-to”. You say “blocking foul”, the officials say “charge”. By and large the crowd had little to complain about. When Mays was called for a charge and then Heikes for a blocking foul on two plays that looked virtually identical save for the uniform color of the offensive team, however, the crowd managed an entire game’s allotment of boos at once.
The official attendance was 10,313. There were a smattering of Texas, Kansas State and Duke fans, but the vast majority of those in attendance supported the Gold and Black. One of the best sites in Mackey was the full Goldrush section filled with screaming students. Many fans had posters, and the general level of enthusiasm was high. Also present were numerous WNBA scouts, Purdue recruits, some Indiana Fever players, and assorted employed and unemployed coaches.
Purdue last won the State Farm Tip-Off Classic during the ’98-’99 season. The ’99 team had its share of detractors – the team was too slow, too soft inside, and had too little depth – but, by virtue of a strong seniors and talented underclassmen, they won the whole enchilada. One hopes that this year’s opening win is a similarly good omen. Next up, Purdue faces a stern test as they take on Duke in North Carolina. The Blue Devils were defeated by Texas in the first game of the Tip-Off classic, making them all the more determined to beat the Boilers in Raleigh.
Game Ball: Emily Heikes