If the women's basketball experts of the world are to be trusted, the Purdue Boilermakers had no business winning Sunday's clash against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Mackey Arena. As Full Court Press guru Clay Kallam noted in his pre-season take on the Boilers: "Mary Jo Noon...is gone, and with her goes any semblance of a Boilermaker inside game. The rest of the team is back, and against teams without a center, should have no problem. But sooner or later ..."
It should be noted that the Buckeyes not only have a center, they have two excellent ones in LaToya Turner and Jessica Davenport. Those centers are coached by noted "big man" specialist Pete Gaudet as he assists Jim "One of the greatest coaches in the game" Foster. What is more, Ohio State figured out how to feed Davenport in the paint during a come back attempt in Columbus less than 2 weeks ago. That attempt fell just short, but surely Sunday afternoon was the "later" that Kallam had envisioned in October.
What Clay and the Boiler’s other doubters have failed to take into account is that a player doesn’t need to be a prep. All-American to belong on an elite team’s roster. Emily Heikes’ abilities are discounted because of her low profile in high school. This has been used by Purdue’s coaching staff to cast her as a blue collar scrapper. The story on Lindsey Hicks, meanwhile, has been that she’s spent her 4 years at Purdue learning a new position as she was on the perimeter in high school. The coaches explain the Boiler’s success as a result of Emily and Lindsey’s heart and desire. And while they do exhibit a large measure of both those traits, there is a less romantic explanation as well. It may be as simple as this- height can hurt an opposing team, but speed kills. Purdue’s frontcourt may be shorter than the majority of their opponents, but they are also usually faster and stronger. And, as anyone who’s seen 7’2” Margo Dydek compete against 6’4” Olympia Scott-Richardson in the WNBA can tell you, speed beats height every time.
To start the game, 5'6" Erika Valek strode into the center circle to jump against 6'6" Davenport while center Emily Heikes took her defensive position in the key. Not surprisingly, Ohio won the tip easily. A quick Buckeye turnover gave the ball right back to the Boilers, however, and a Valek jump shot gave the Vegas Gold and Black the first points of the game, 2-0 at 19:20. Purdue appeared a step slow on defense during the first 8 minutes of the game,. They did not rotate or work to prevent cuts. The result was Ohio State connecting on all four of their first shot attempts and they quickly took the lead. Two Caity Matter free throws with 12:24 to go gave the visitors a 11-16 advantage. The Boilers then shifted their defensive focus and took away the Buckeye's easy inside looks. This, however, left Curry's charges susceptible to the fast break, and two quick lay-ups put Ohio State up by 8, 14-22. With seven minutes remaining in the half, the Boilers finally got their collective acts together. Behind their trademark full court pressure and traps the Boiler defense tightened up. Offensively, Curry’s charges were connecting on their jump shots and sinking their free throws. By the final media time out of the half the Boilers had closed to within 2 at 22-24. Jump shots by Lindsey Hicks and Shereka Wright gave the home team the edge going into the intermission with a 26-24 score.
Purdue came out of the locker room ready to play. They out hustled the Buckeyes - getting the loose balls and the majority of the rebounds while attacking the basket. Fueled by the strong play of Hicks, Wright, and Valek, the Boilers extended their lead to 8 points with 11 minutes remaining. The play was quite wild at times, and in several instances a trail of fallen bodies could be seen on the court. Back to back three pointers by Jones and Valek with 7:40 elapsed produced the Boiler's largest lead of the game at 50-37. Purdue then reverted to their beginning of the game form, however, and let the Buckeyes right back into the contest. A series of turnovers, both forced and unforced, resulted in a string of empty possessions. Ohio State was able to chip away at the lead, and with a minute left to play they had pulled to within 4 points, 56-52. After 30 seconds of frenetic play, Erika Valek was whistled for a foul on Brandi Hoskins. This was Erika's fifth, and Hoskins was able to sink both free throws to give the Bucks a 2 point margin with 31 seconds left. In one of those "why do they do that?" moves, the Buckeyes allowed the Boilers to run 15 seconds off the clock, THEN fouled Shereka Wright. She made one of her two charity tosses to make the score 57-54. Ohio State moved the ball across the center stripe then called a time out in order to set up one last three point attempt with 9 seconds remaining. Everyone in the building knew that the ball would be going to Caity Matter, and, as expected, Kim Wilburn spent most of the remaining time looking for an angle which would allow the three point specialist to receive the ball. Beth Jones and Lindsey Hicks did an excellent job denying the pass. With less than a second to go, Wilburn realized that she had to make something happen and hoisted up a desperation shot. It fell way short and the Boilers escaped with a 57-54 win.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Buckeyes stayed in a match-up zone defense for the entire afternoon. There was no reason for the team to change as the Boilers never appeared to have a fluid offensive flow in the half court. Many of their key baskets came off of broken plays or in transition. This translated into 38% shooting efficiency from the floor, including 36% from down town.
Brian McCormack, a Full Court Press columnist, recently wrote about the virtues of using full court pressure throughout a game. "Teams that apply constant pressure defensively, whether in the half court or full court, are like boxers who effectively work the body. Some boxers like to jab, throw combinations and look for the big home run left hook to win the fight. Others methodically work the body, sapping their opponents' strength and will, weakening their resolve and stamina, until the time comes for the big knockout punch.
Teams that press or use pressure defense are like the body puncher -- they wear down the opposition through the course of the game. The misconception is that a press' success is based on steals; however, great pressure teams know the press is effective because it produces mistakes, mental errors and a lower shooting percentage due to mental and physical exhaustion."
The Boilers are living testament to this philosophy, as their recent success can be traced to the institution of a "slow-down" full court press.
After being badly over matched in Columbus, Purdue emerged on Sunday with one more board than their opponents - 33-32. Emily Heikes and Erin Lawless tied for team-high honors with 6 apiece.
The Boilers won the game at the free throw line. They took advantage of every opportunity to score while not being guarded, hitting 10 of 13 attempts for 77%. In contrast, the Buckeyes made only 50% of their 22 attempts. Erin Lawless was perfect from the stripe.
The Boilers played an excellent 30 minutes of basketball, sandwitched between 10 minutes of sloppy play. Overall, 14 turnovers were recorded by the home team, and it appeared as if most occurred in the final minutes of play. The Boilers excelled at moving the ball in the half court and feeding the post without forcing poor passes. Purdue’s troubles occurred when the Buckeyes applied their full court press, and one suspects that they will be seeing a lot more traps in the future as a result.
More than any other Purdue player, Lindsey Hicks is much more effective when at home than when on the road. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that one of her best games as a senior would be in the "friendly confines." Lindsey was extremely active all over the floor. She's key to the presses and traps that Purdue runs in order to slow down the opposition when they are bringing the ball up the court. When the ball is finally in the half-court, she'll get back on the low block and play tough position defense on her taller opponents. Lindsey's best play of the night might have been her backwards three-point play. After missing a foul shot, she was first off the line to grab the rebound then quickly elevated to put in the lay-up over a taller Buckeye defender. On the afternoon Lindsey had a total of 9 points (4-6, 0-1 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal to 1 turnover.
When Shereka Wright snaked in a lay-up midway through the second half she recorded her 2,000th point as a Boilermaker. She is the tenth Big 10 player and the third Purdue player (after MaChelle Joseph and Stephanie White ) to reach this milestone. Like the team she plays for, Shereka has not received as much attention as many in West Lafayette believe she deserves. It will be a shame if she is not recognized as an All-American when the season is over, because she is truly deserving of the honor. Shereka competes hard every minute that she's on the court, and on Sunday she played the same gritty, consistent game that she's evidenced all season. Wright ended with a game-high 19 points (6-20, 0-2 3 pt.er, 7-8 FT), 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals to 1 turnover.
Emily Heikes had her hands full. When the game began she appeared out of synch, and this as much as anything explained the string of OSU lay-ups at the start of the game. As the game wore on, however, she appeared to gain more and more confidence and became more successful at establishing position and winning her rebounding battles. Emily gave the Mackey faithful a scare when an elbow to the neck caused her to go down hard. Although Emily had to leave the game, she soon recovered and played additional minutes before the contest was over. Emily recorded a total of 2 points (1 very pretty step through in 7 attempts), 6 rebounds, an assist, a turnover, and a steal.
Ohio State's strategy for shutting down Beth Jones was to have 6'6" Jessica Davenport rush out to contest her three point shot. This did work as intended, as Beth is too savvy to hoist up an attempt sure to be blocked. Perhaps not so intended was that it allowed Beth to pass the ball to a Wright - who could then slash to the basket as Davenport was no longer planted in the paint. When she is open, Beth can be counted on to knock down her shots with a high degree of regularity. Beth's main defensive responsibility was dogging Caity Matter. Matter failed to connect on a three pointer and had to work hard for every bucket, and Jones can be credited for the ace Buckeye's struggles. In all, Beth finished the afternoon with a total of 6 points (2-6, 2-5 3 pt.er, 0-1 FT), 3 rebounds, an assist, and a steal to 1 turnover.
Never was it more apparent that as Erika Valek goes so go the Boilermakers as in this game. Purdue's minutes of strong play occurred when Erika was on and attacking, but the entire team struggled when the fiery Columbian lost focus and committed careless turnovers. The biggest positive was that with the exception of the final minutes, Erika played as well as she has all year. Her shot was dropping and she keyed the Boiler's efforts. Erika has become extremely adept at controlling tempo and running the team on the offensive end of the court. One hopes she uses this performance as a stepping-stone to additional games of strong play. On the afternoon Valek recorded 17 points (7-11, 3-5 3 pt.er, 0-1 FT), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals to 6 turnovers.
It was reported after the game that Katie Gearlds' sprained ankle was giving her trouble. That would explain her hampered mobility and relative lack of aggression. She failed to connect on her 3 shot attempts, perhaps due to the sore leg. Katie's a player that makes an impact even when she's not scoring, however, and she created opportunities for her teammates when she was on the court. She collected a rebound, 2 assists, and a steal to 2 turnovers in her 19 minutes of play.
Like Katie, Erin Lawless was sore. Her stiffness was the result of a car accident suffered the evening before the contest. Despite that she played tough in the post, boxing out extremely well and vacuuming up rebounds. Her best play was no doubt an offensive board and put back late in the second half. The bucket put a stop to an Ohio State run and allowed the Boilers some needed breathing room. In all, Erin recorded a total of 4 points (1-2, 2-2 FT), and 6 rebounds to one turnover.
With the exception of a foul, Carol Duncan failed to dent the box score in her 9 minutes play. Despite this, she made a solid contribution, playing very tough "D" on the OSU posts when she was in the game.
Sharika Webb pulled down a rebound and recorded a steal in her 5 minutes of action. Her biggest contribution, however, was her ability to provide help under the defensive glass. On two instances she slapped the ball out of Davenport's hands preventing sure lay-ups.
Ashley Mays did not play. She was joined on the bench by teammates Indi Johnson, Hannah Anderson, and Aya Traore. Sabrina Keys, however, is no longer practicing with the team so that she can concentrate on her studies and was not on the bench.
Curry was much more animated on the sidelines than is typical as several times she literally fell to the ground when calls did not go her way. Perhaps this was done, along with using Erika Valek on the opening jump, to play a mind game or two with Foster. Although execution wavered a bit through the course of the game, the team seemed extremely well prepared for the Buckeyes. Kelly Curry deserves special mention as once more Purdue's post players overachieved and came out on top of much taller players.
The crowd had little quibble with the officials’ ability to call infractions. The lack of a traveling call on Caity Matter despite the numerous instances she appeared to shift her pivot foot or throw in a bunny hop drew the ire of those in attendance, however. When she was finally whistled for "steps" late in the second half, the officials received a very sarcastic standing ovation from the crowd.
The announced attendance was 13,737. This appeared to be an honest figure as the upper bowl was filled with Project Perfect students from local schools and a goodly number of Girl Scout troops. As one might expect from such a large crowd, the arena was extremely loud, and the Boilers enjoyed a home court advantage because of it. Also in attendance were numerous recruits included two high school players - freshman Ta'Shia Phillips and sophomore Amber Harris - both of whom gave their oral commitments to attend Purdue shortly after the game.
Between Purdue's win and Penn State's loss to Minnesota on Sunday night, the Boilers are now tied for first place in the Big 10 standings. Their 19-2 record and recent 9 game winning streak are the best for a Boilermaker squad since the 1998-1999 National Championship team. This strong play makes a New Orleans Final Four trip appear increasingly likely. The Boilers face one of their sternest tests to date, however, as they must play a dangerous Hawkeye squad in Iowa on Tuesday night.
.Game Ball with “2000 points, Purdue 57, Ohio State 54, February 8, 2004” inscribed in gold letters: Shereka Wright - one of the best players ever to wear Gold and Black