Valparaiso must be Purdue's favorite in-state mid-major opponent. Over the years the two schools have enjoyed several long-standing home and home series. The previous meeting between the teams hadn't been formally scheduled, however, as they competed in the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament. While the Boilers had little trouble with the Crusaders on their way to an Elite Eight finish, the fact that Valpo was invited to the "big polka" at all speaks to the team's quality. Keith Freeman's charges play a smart and scrappy style of ball. Perhaps this is why they perennially show up on the Boiler's pre-conference dance card while the seemingly equivalent Ball State, Butler, and Indiana State squads remain wallflowers.
Any questions about the home team's willingness to compete when Purdue took on Valparaiso on Wednesday night were answered in the opening minutes of the contest. The Crusaders took advantage of Purdue's porous defense to score on two consecutive back door plays. With three minutes off the clock, Valpo was up 3-7. The visitors seemed much less concerned with the score than with who was boxing out and grabbing rebounds, however, and all of Purdue's substitutions in the first half appeared to be dictated by a player's effectiveness on the boards. Shereka Wright was one of the very few individuals in the Purdue camp that seemed to realize that while rebounds are nice, the scoreboard keeps track of points. Wright was the one player who consistently applied offensive pressure. Her free throw with 12:13 remaining gave the Boilers its first lead at 12-11. The game remained close for the remainder of the half, and Purdue went into the locker room with a 4 point advantage - 32-28.
The Boilers came out after halftime a much more focused team. As a result they were able to harness their energy and effort and use it to dictate all aspects of the game. Curry's charges were able extend the lead to a comfortable margin in the first portion of the second half. With a little over six minutes gone the score was 47-34 in the visitor's favor. Then the Boilers' attention began to wander and they ran a series of sloppy sets or turned the ball over. Valpo was able to capitalize on their opportunities, and tightened the score once again. At the two minute mark the Crusaders had pulled to within 10 at 62-52, and few seconds later a Valpo basket closed the gap to 8 points. The final minute was a parade to the free throw line. Purdue was able to connect on enough of their shots to extend the winning margin back to double digits. The final score was 68-57.
Comments of Specific Aspects of the Game:
One of the reasons why the coaches can afford to place so much emphasis on Purdue's rebounding woes is that the Vegas Gold and Black shoots extremely well. The team is smart on the offensive end, and will usually work the ball until the high percentage shot opens up. When all else fails, Wright and, increasingly, Gearlds can be counted on to drive to the hoop for either two points or free throws. The Boilers connected on 43% of their field goal attempts including 60% from "downtown."
The Crusaders were held without a field goal attempt until the final 8 seconds of the shot clock in the vast majority of their offensive possessions. This forced them to put up hurried and unbalanced shots - something that goes a long way towards explaining their 37% shooting percentage. The Boilers did a good job of coming out on three point shooters, and held the home team to 27% shooting behind the arc.
Rebounding was the Boilers major, indeed only, point of emphasis in the game. In the first half the Boilers did manage to out rebound the Crusaders 18-15, but they gave up 8 offensive rebounds to the home team. Much of the problem stemmed from poor positioning. When a shot went up the Boilers boxed out by jumping in front of their assigned Valpo player, but failed to push her out of position. The result was a gaggle of Boilers standing directly under the basket only to see the rebound bounce over their heads and go straight to an opponent. This problem was corrected in the second half, and the Boilers collected 25 boards to Valpo's 19 for a game total 43-34 advantage. Emily Heikes and Carol Duncan shared game-high honors with 9 caroms apiece.
Purdue experienced one of its more successful outing of the year from the free throw line, hitting 19-26 for 73%. One hopes this trend continues and is improved upon in future games. Shereka Wright was the sole Boiler to be perfect from the line, nailing all 5 of her attempts.
Perhaps because the Purdue players were worrying more about what happened after a shot went up than getting the shot off, the team played with little flow, and looked out of sync for much of the evening. This resulted in more turnovers than was typical for the team, and miscues outnumbered assists 16 to 12. When the team settled down in the second half, the turnovers decreased and the play looked much better.
Lindsey Hicks was extremely active during the game. She was never far from the ball, and appeared to be everywhere on the court. Lindsey also made some clutch baskets in the second half when Valpo began to cut into Purdue's lead. Her most impressive play of the night occurred early in the game, however, when she threaded a pin-point entry pass through a team's worth of defenders to hit a Boiler all alone on the low block. Lindsey's stat. line is surprising as it doesn't reflect her overall impact on the game. Hicks recorded a total of 7 points (3-7, 1-3 FT), 1 rebound, 2 assists, and a steal to 1 turnover.
Shereka Wright was the one Purdue player who did not appear to be spooked by Curry's threats. Perhaps this was because Wright knows that when she just goes out and plays her typical game the rebounds will come. In Valpo's small arena one is able to get much closer to the action than is possible in Mackey. Until someone sees Shereka make a drive to the basket from 15 feet away it is difficult to appreciate just how fast she is going and how quickly she makes adjustments to avoid defenders and attempts to block her shots. The most impressive facet of Shereka's game on Wednesday was the 3 shots she swatted for clean blocks. In all Wright finished with a game-high 18 points (6-12, 1-1 3 pt.er, 5-5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 blocked shots to 2 turnovers.
In stark contrast to Shereka, Emily Heikes appeared to be extremely affected by the coaching staff's "box out or come out" rule. She had an eye on the bench after every sequence, and never appeared comfortable on the court. Emily's aggressive play on the low block did not result in any field goals, but she was fouled quite a few times when she went up with her shots. On the night Emily had a total of 6 points (0-1, 6-8 FT), 9 rebounds, an assist and a steal to 3 turnovers.
It is not often that one mentions Beth Jones in the same breath as Shereka Wright when talking about speed, but from floor level it is apparent that Jones is incredibly fast on the court. Beth played within herself, and didn't force things on the floor. She had 2 good shot opportunities, so that is what she took, connecting on one of them for her 3 points on the night. Beth also pulled down a rebound and recorded 2 assists and a steal.
Erika Valek played an extremely solid game. She did nothing particularly flashy, but was rock steady as she led the team. Despite the Boiler's rather stilted play, she maintained her composure and control. As befits a team leader, Erika is extremely vocal at the beginning of time-outs when the coaching staff is in its own "mini-huddle" before they come over to speak to the players. Valek recorded a total of 6 points (3-7, 0-1 3 pt.er), 6 rebounds, and 2 assists to 1 turnover.
Katie Gearlds is becoming a victim of her own success. In 5 games her superior play has gone from a thing of wonder to something that's expected. At this point in the season she is the second highest scorer on the team, averaging just over 12 points per game. She is also second on the team in assists and steals, but only fifth in turnovers. Gearlds played 14 minutes in the first half - first subbing in for Jones as a shooting guard. When Valek came out she switched down to point guard, then over to wing when Wright needed relief. At all positions Katie remains effective, and is truly one of the two best players on the team in any of the three spots. Her most impressive play of the night may have been when she plucked a Valparaiso half court pass out of the air when it appeared that she could not have seen the ball let alone get her hands on it. She then led a three on one fast break coming the other way. Ashley Mays was filling the lane to Katie's left, and Gearlds was watching her all the way down the court. At the last second she flicked a no-look to her right into the arms of Erin Lawless. Katie finished with a total of 16 points (5-8, 1-1 3 pt.er, 5-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a blocked shot to 2 turnovers.
Carol Duncan had her coming out party in the second half. She was a whirling dervish under the hoop, pulling down 7 of her 9 rebounds in her final ten minutes of playing time. Carol improves as a post defender every time out, and is excellent at clearing the lane and preventing opponents from establishing position. No doubt her minutes will increase dramatically if her play remains at this level. Her sole basket in three attempts was an acrobatic offensive rebound and put back. In addition to 2 points and 9 boards, Carol committed one turnover.
Erin Lawless seems to put eyes on the ball as many of the improbable shots she throws up go in the basket. Erin is still learning to protect the ball in a crowd, and her three turnovers came as a result of allowing smaller players to swipe the ball out of her hands. Erin continues to play with fierce determination, and shows improvement each time out. On the evening she recorded a total of 8 points (3-8, 2-4 FT), and 3 rebounds.
Ashley Mays got a lot done in her two minutes on the court. In that time she attempted 2 shots (although neither went in), dished out an assist and pulled down a rebound.
Sharika Webb did not have her usual handle, and was charged with 2 turnovers. Perhaps this is why her minutes were somewhat limited. She did score 2 points (1-3).
Indi Johnson and Sabrina Keys did not play, and joined the injured Hannah Anderson and Aya Traore on the bench.
Kristy Curry is mad as hell and she's not going to take it anymore. Specifically, she's not going to take missed box outs or giving up offensive rebounds. She appeared to be none too pleased with the Boiler's efforts in this regard during the first half, and at one point was seen screaming at the top of her lungs directly at Heikes and Hicks about their lack of effort under the basket. Curry was quick to praise the team's efforts in the second stanza, however.
After the game the head coach revealed that every offensive rebound by the opposing team would earn the Purdue player most responsible 5 "Mackeys". A Mackey is the term used to describe running to the top step of the bleachers and back.
"I've got kids in there that have 20 or 25 Mackeys before we go to Houston," said Curry as quoted in the Journal and Courier, “We may lose at Houston because we're so sore." Which begs the question - if Purdue does lose to Houston will this mean Curry has lost the battle to win the war? Or just cut off her nose to spite her face?
The officials had some moments of inconsistency, but called the game fairly for both sides.
The announced attendance was 1087. Not a high number, but the crowd amply filled the High School-like arena on the Valpo campus and provided an excellent basketball atmosphere. Judging from the affiliations declared on the fan's sweatshirts and hats, about 40% were Purdue supporters.
This was a housekeeping game for the Boilermakers; one in which they could work on specific aspects of their play without worrying about an opponent that would dictate a different game plan. In doing so the Boilers appeared to lack confidence and played in a much more tentative manner than was evident in their early Mackey wins. One hopes this is a short, temporary phase that they will pass through on their way to overall improvement. The stilted play seen Wednesday didn't affect the game's outcome against Valparaiso, but future opponents will be much less forgiving.
Game Ball: Shereka Wright