To paraphrase Pete Rose, "If it weren't for bad luck, the Wildcats wouldn't have any luck at all." Northwestern began the 2003-2004 season with a legitimate Big 10 post player in Sarah Kwasinski and a supporting cast of decent, young players. They had every reason to expect a more successful season than they had seen in many years. But a string of injuries and player suspensions left the Wildcats with just 8 players, many of whom were inexperienced with suspect basketball skills. June Olkowski's squad came into Mackey Arena on Thursday night with a 0-3 Big 10 record. It was apparent from the opening tip that they expected to depart West Lafayette with a 0-4 mark in the conference. The Wildcats played like ‘fraidy cats in the first half, and, as the Boilers rang up the points, they could do little in response. Half way through the first, the score was 22-4 in the home team's favor. In a complete departure from any other game, Curry used a platoon pattern when she substituted. The entire starting team sat at the 15-minute mark to be replaced by 5 fresh players. Every started then returned to the court at the 5 minute mark. The Boilers' level of play remained high no matter which squad was on the court. When the half was over, 10 Purdue players had played exactly 10 minutes each and the score was 43-12.
Olkowski's half time speech might have been as simple as telling her players that since they had made the trip all the way down to Lafayette and they had brought their uniforms, after all, they might consider playing some basketball. Meanwhile, Purdue's starters appeared to feel as if their night was finished. The Wildcats came out with much more fire than they exhibited in the first half, and began the second stanza with a 7-0 run. With 3 minutes elapsed Curry inserted her "second team." The bench players brought their original intensity and a Lawless three pointer ended the Boiler drought. Despite the Wildcat's increased intensity, the two teams basically traded baskets until the end of the contest. The final score was 71-41.
Comments of Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Wildcats spent the entire game in a zone defense that sagged more than a 70-year-old pole dancer. The Boilers respond by taking a large number of three point shots, and, as one might expect when they shoot with no defensive pressure, the team connected on 50% of their attempts. The Boilermaker offense appeared to be geared towards speeding up the game by scoring out of the half court after allowing the shot clock to get to single digits. As a result of this patience, 20 of the Vegas Gold and Black's 27 made baskets were assisted. The other 7 were the result of steals and break away lay-ups. Overall the Boilers shot 42% from the floor.
Northwestern had trouble bringing the ball up the court against any of the Boiler guards, and Curry's charges were credited with an incredible 17 steals on the game.
The Wildcat's shooting woes could pretty much be equally credited to Purdue's defensive pressure and their poor shooting. The Boilers allowed Northwestern to shoot up three point attempts, and the purple and white's 20% effort from downtown certainly validated that strategy. Overall the visitors shot 37% from the floor on the game.
This game perfectly illustrated the importance (or lack thereof) of dominating the glass in any given contest. The Wildcats won the battle of the boards 35-30. The number of shot attempts can actually explain the disparity in rebounding numbers. The Wildcats went 17-46 on the night. Thus, only 29 rebounds were available to be snagged on the defensive end. When viewed that way, the fact the Boilers grabbed 19 of them doesn't seem so bad. In the one bright spot for the Wildcats, Sarah Kwasinski nabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. Shereka Wright led the Boilers with 6.
As one might expect from a game played primarily on the perimeter, the fouls were few and far between. Purdue only attempted a total of 9 free throws. Seven were made for a 78% mark on the night. Katie Gearlds was perfect from the line going 2-2.
Purdue recorded 20 assists and 9 turnovers. A team just doesn't do much better than that. This mark is particularly remarkable when one considers that no starter logged more than 16 minutes on the night. The Boilermakers dictated every aspect of the contest, and were able to set the pace and tone of the game at all times.
The starters got the game off on the right foot, and played as a controlled, efficient unit. They appeared to be concentrating more on defense than offense when the game started, but took advantage of the easy scoring opportunities presented to them when Northwestern failed to keep up with ball reversal and skip passes. For much of the game the starters played at perhaps 80% of their usual intensity, and they should have plenty in their tank for the big showdown against Minnesota on Sunday. Perhaps the most amazing feature of the game was that, for the first time in her Purdue career, Shereka Wright was not fouled in the act of shooting during the game and did not attempt any free throws.
While every other player‘s intensity waxed and waned, Erin Lawless was giving 100% at all times. One suspects this is her nature, and that she just isn't capable of ramping it down or doing anything less than going all out. The stat. which best illustrates her intensity is the fact that she attempted 5 of Purdue's 9 free throws. This speaks to her willingness to take the ball to the hole aggressively. Erin demonstrated her three point shooting ability hitting 2 of 3 from “downtown.” Erin also demonstrated suburb passing and decision making as she'd find a player for an assist if her shot was too heavily contested. In an excellent outing, Erin recorded a game-high 16 points (5-8, 2-3 3 pt.ers, 4-5 FT), 4 rebounds, a game-high 5 assists, and a steal to one turnover.
Katie Gearlds' shooting touch returned and she appeared to very comfortable on the court. After the contest Katie reportedly said that the game was fun again, and that certainly was the impression she gave on the court. Katie was able to demonstrate her versatility and basketball sense, as she'd post up down low to score over smaller players, then get out in the passing lanes to grab the steals that led to transition baskets. Katie ended the evening with a total of 11 points (4-9, 1-2 3 pt.er, 2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 7 (seven!!) steals, and a rebound.
Ashley Mays played an excellent game, easily her best effort as a Boilermaker. Northwestern's shaky dribbling skills played right into Ashley's quick hands, and time after time she was able to make a steal in the half court for an easy Boiler transition bucket. In one post game write-up, Purdue's dominance was credited to the Boiler's "pressing defense." In truth, however, it was a pressing defense of one. Purdue did not run full court presses or traps (it would have been extremely uncharacteristic for Curry to employ such strategies against such an overmatched foe); all they did was allow Ashley to pick her opponent clean. Ashley ended the evening with a total of 6 points (3-6), 3 rebounds, a blocked shot, 4 steals, and 1 turnover.
Sharika Webb ran the point when the bench "shift" was in the game. Sharika did a capable job, and her excellent court vision allows her to get the ball to the right person at the right time. More than any other time this year, she looked to score and took her share of shots, connecting on 30% of her attempts. Defensively she was extremely effective pressuring the ball in the open court. In all Sharika recorded a total of 8 points (3-10, 2-5 3 pt.er), 4 assists, and 2 steals to 1 turnover.
Carol Duncan played a solid game. The role she is taking on makes her "disappear" on the court at times, as she is doing most of her work off the ball. Suffice it to say, when the Boilers are defending tough and in a good offensive flow overall, Carol is doing her job well. Carol recorded 4 points (2-5), 4 rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Sabrina Keys has returned from California and was on the court for the final 3 minutes of the contest. In that time she attempted a shot and committed a turnover.
Kristy Curry must have been the happiest person in Mackey arena. Curry was able to give her starters a rest, but, unlike a total night off, they did get a tune up and were able to break a sweat. The weak opponent also allowed her to give the bench players the minutes they needed to establish a rhythm and play within the flow of the game. This, in turn, allowed them to succeed and to build their confidence in game situations. Last but certainly not least, nobody got hurt - one of the prime worries in any blow out.
Along with the teams, the officials had a very easy time of it on Thursday. Both teams seemed very happy to play a finesse game, and very little contact was made on either end of the court. Although there was no doubt at least one infraction-free game played somewhere during the history of NCAA women's basketball, this game's grand total of 15 personal fouls called must one of the recent finalists for fewest whistles in a contest.
The official attendance was given as 8073, and the lower bowl of Mackey appeared to be about three-quarter's full. It's pretty darn hard to get whipped up over a 30-point blowout, and by and large the crowd was quite. One benefit of playing the bench for extended minutes was that it did keep the crowd engaged as they seemed happy to cheer on the times "their girls" made a noteworthy play.
The Boilers go from the playing the worst team in the Big 10 to one of the best in the country when they take on Minnesota on Sunday. The Gophers are the only undefeated D1 team right now and are ranked sixth in the country. They achieved this record against less than stellar competition, however, so it's not clear just how good the team is really is. The Boilers are about to find out Sunday afternoon. If Purdue is to have any realistic hope of winning the Big 10 regular season crown, they will need to secure a victory. One hopes they are up to the challenge.
Game Ball: Erin Lawless