The Blockbuster has not been kind to the Boilermakers during the Curry era. In 2002 the Boilers barely squeaked out a win over Indiana University, 53-51. Purdue beat the Hoosiers in West Lafayette by a 74-48 margin later the same year. The 1999 and 2000 games against Kentucky and Louisiana State University were similarly dismal, the former an ugly 48-40 win and the later an even uglier 65-55 loss. The 14 point win against UCSB in 2001 was the exception that proves the rule. The one constant through the years has been terrible shooting and flat play. The main reason given for this track record of mediocrity has been timing the Blockbuster has historically fallen at the end of finals week, a time when games are few and far between and basketball is the last thing on many of the players' minds. This year the Blockbuster broke with tradition and was played on the weekend preceding finals week. Despite the move the level of play and narrow win was eerily reminiscent of Blockbusters past.
Things started out well enough for the Boilers. They came out with more defensive intensity than they had exhibited all season. They were patient and effective on the offensive end as well. The team rode their high level of play to a 9-0 lead with 18 minutes left in the first half. Perhaps because they felt the game was in the bag at that point, the Boilers then lost any semblance of intensity. Most of their possessions came up empty; a combination of careless turnovers and missed shots. UCLA wasn't playing great ball either, but they kept chipping away and with 9:50 showing on the clock they had taken their first lead of the game - 13-14. Curry's response was to put the starters back on the court, and they paid attention long enough to go on a 7-0 run, reestablishing a comfortable lead. The teams played evenly for the remainder of the first stanza and went into the locker room with the Boilers ahead, 27-22.
The second half was a demonstration of what happens when a better team allows a less talented squad to 'hang around'. Although the Bruins didn't regain the lead until the final minute, they kept within striking distance the entire half. With each passing second their confidence grew as the tandem of Nikki Blue and Lisa Willis capitalized on Purdue's passive defense by attacking the basket or scoring on pull up jumpers. Together they combined for 38 of the Bruin's 57 points. Purdue did its part to keep things interesting by bricking shot after shot both from the floor and the charity stripe. With 90 seconds remaining the score was tied 55-55 and it was anybody's ball game. The teams traded missed shots, rebounds, and turnovers for the next minute. With about 10 seconds remaining a missed shot under the UCLA basket resulted in an all out scrum. Boilers and Bruins both dove for the ball in an attempt to gain possession. Within this mass of bodies an official found a shooting foul and awarded Lisa Willis two charity attempts. She made both to put the visitors up by 2 points, 55-57 with 8.6 seconds remaining. Purdue took a time out to draw up a final play. When the game resumed the ball was in bounded to Erika Valek. She raced up court and was able to evade two UCLA defenders before delivering a two- handed pass to Beth Jones. Beth was as alone as a she could be out on the wing, and she shot the ball without hesitation. Nothing but net and 1.1 seconds left on the clock. UCLA's desperation half court pass was intercepted by Shereka Wright. She fell to the court as the time expired. Purdue had escaped by the skin of their teeth 58-57.
Comments of Specific Aspects of the Game
The Boilers suffered through an extremely poor shooting night, going 32% from the field, this included a sub-artic 17% from behind the arc. This poor percentage had very little to do with the Bruin's defensive intensity. The Boilers were just as likely to miss the wide open lay-up as the difficult jumper. Wright, Lawless, and Jones were the only Boilers that were immune as they combined to go 13-23. The remainder of the team shot 9-46.
Every coach will tell you that players have no control whether or not their shots drop, but they can always play tough defense and fight for rebounds. In Saturday's instance, it was truly defense that won the game for Curry's squad. The Boilers forced 18 turnovers, 9 of which were credited as Purdue steals. There were one or two instances of allowing a back door cut or some other lapse, but overall the Vegas Gold and Black played a very good defensive game.
Lots of missed shots results in lots of potential offensive rebounds. The Boilers were able to capitalize, as they soundly won the battle of the O-boards as well as the war of total rebounding numbers. For the first time all season a player pulled down more than 10 rebounds, as Emily Heikes recorded a game-high 11 boards. Rebounding has been a huge area of emphasis for the team, so these positive results are to be expected. One hopes the ability to compete on the glass remains as the team focus moves on to other areas of emphasis.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Boilers didn't connect on the shots they attempted when they were not guarded much better than any of their others. Overall the team made a mediocre 11-18 from the charity stripe. Perhaps missed free throws should be the next reason for a player to run 5 "Mackeys." Ironically, the three players who had the most trouble connecting from the floor- Hicks, Valek, and Heikes- were perfect from the stripe.
The team had a total of 14 assists to 13 turnovers. The majority of the turnovers seemed to occur during the first half. Of those, many were unforced, and appeared to be due to lack of concentration on the players' part. During most of the game, the offensive sets and motion appeared to be quite good unfortunately the shots didn't drop after many despite the open looks and good ball movement.
Lindsey Hicks couldn't buy a basket. Many of her shots were from close in, but they just wouldn't drop for the Birthday girl. Hicks was quite active and played very well in other facets of the game. She finished with a total of 4 points (1-11, 0-2 3 pt.er, 2-2 FT), 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocked shots, and 1 steal to 2 turnovers.
Beth Jones played well all 25 minutes she was on the court, but it will be her play in the final 2 seconds that everyone will remember. Jones nailed her first game winning shot, and it was a thing of beauty - completely in rhythm and made without a moment's hesitation. Jones was the only player who could get a connection when she "dialed long distance" as she took all 3 of the Boiler's successful three-point attempts. In all Beth had a total of 12 points (4-7, 3-6 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Erika Valek's body was in the Conseco Fieldhouse, but her head was nowhere to be found. This game will not be going down in any Valek family album as Erika had one of her weaker games as Boiler. Her lack of focus translated into ball handling errors and other unforced turnovers. Perhaps to atone for her earlier miscues, in the later stages of the game she then appeared to press and force shots. All was forgiven, however, when she maintained her handle despite intense pressure by the UCLA guards and delivered the game-winning assist. On the evening Erika recorded a total of 2 points (0-10, 0-3 3 pt.ers, 2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocked shots, and 3 steals to 5 turnovers.
In the midst of all the rebounding and scoring drama, Shereka Wright just keeps delivering one excellent game after another. The only indication that she's been affected by the rest of the team's struggles has been her below average free throw shooting percentage. Against UCLA she had no trouble finding the basket, and hit her season average with 17 points in the game. Shereka finds ways to contribute all over the court, and ended the evening with a superb line: 17 points (7-12, 0-2 3 pt.ers, 3-8 FT), 9 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 steals to 2 turnovers.
This was one of the few times this season that Emily Heikes played with authority and appeared to be enjoying herself on the court. Although her shots refused to drop, Emily played a great defensive game and owned the boards. Her improved rebounding may be getting most of the attention, but Emily's ability to provide help side defense and cut off penetration is markedly improved as well. In all Emily recorded 6 points (2-7, 2-2 FT), 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal to one turnover.
Katie Gearlds was quoted in the local papers as saying that she's not all that happy with her play to date and that she'd like to become more aggressive. Curry echoed this statement, indicating that while she was happy with what Katie had produced so far, the coaches feel that she's capable of doing much more. Perhaps this can be translated into meaning that she should attack the basket instead of settling for jump shots. On the court it translated into a player that appeared to be forcing things instead of letting the game come to her. And that translated into poor shooting and a less effective performance than we've come to expect. On the day Katie had a total of 8 points (4-12, 0-4 3 pt.er), 4 rebounds, an assist, a block, and a steal.
During Aya Traore's time on the court she got to the basket with a series of elegant spin moves before finishing with authority. Aya is still suffering the effects of her injury, but in that sequence she gave a glimpse of the player Curry is so enthusiastic about. No doubt Aya will be given as many minutes as possible so that she can catch up to the rest of the team. In ten minutes play Aya recorded 2 points (1-3) and an assist.
Erin Lawless was unaffected by the freshman jitters and played very well. On at least one series she was able to hang onto a rebound despite the swipes of Bruin defenders - a definite improvement from earlier games. Erin is still learning the ropes of interior defense, but has no problems on the offensive side of the court. She ended up with 5 points (2-4, 1-2 FT) and 4 rebounds.
Carol Duncan is now firmly established in the rotation as the back up center. She doesn't bring much scoring punch, but can be counted on to fight for every rebound and to play a physical defensive game. Against UCLA she recorded 2 points (1-2), 2 rebounds, and an assist.
Opposing teams have learned that Sharika Webb she will cough up the ball if they trap her in the open court. As soon as she came into the game the Bruins employed such a strategy and, sure enough, a turnover was the result. The good news about all this from Sharika's perspective is that she knows exactly what she must work on to increase her minutes. In addition to the turnover, in two minutes play Sharika recorded a steal and attempted a shot.
Ashley Mays played for a minute but otherwise did not dent the box score. Indi Johnson and Sabrina Keys did not play.
In one of those ironies of sports, the best evidence of Curry's coaching ability was during a time when everything rested on the instincts and abilities of the players. For months, if not years, the coaches have been working with Erika so that she can read defenses on the fly and while under pressure. She's been instructed on when to deliver the pass and when to take a shot herself. Beth Jones knows where to go on the court, and has been instructed so many times to shoot the ball when she's open that it now never even crosses her mind to look for a pass if she's all alone. End of game scenarios - including down 2 with 10 seconds left - are a practice staple. Although winning a game with a three point shot in the final second is indeed a rare occurrence, everything the team does every day prepares them to succeed in just such an instance.
The officiating crew of Lisa Mattingly, Sue Blauch, and Dee Kanter once again demonstrated why they are my favorite group of "zebras." They called an excellent game.
The official attendance was 6705. This represented a large number of walk up business as less than 5000 tickets were sold prior to the event. While over 6000 is a good crowd for a women's game, it is the popularity of the men's team that drives the ticket sales. From that perspective it was a disappointing turnout. If the Boiler men continue to play as well as they have up to this point in the season, perhaps next year's Purdue-Duke clash will be a sell out. It should be noted that Katie Gearlds attracted a large contingent of Beech Grove fans.
The 2003-2004 Boilermakers are still very much a work in progress. Their games have had a ragged quality even as they have emerged victorious. Perhaps this is what one might expect from a team that looks so different from last year's squad. It is a nice bonus that they are 7-1 as they work to establish their roles and learn how to play to each other's strengths. The team is finally able to return to Mackey as they take on the UCSB Gauchos as their next opponent.
Game Ball: Beth Jones