Despite the growing popularity of women's college basketball, exposure on national television remains quite uncommon. Only high-profile, rivalry games are likely to be shown, and no team can boast more than 3 or 4 countrywide appearances. Teams will do everything in their power to accommodate the wishes of the networks in order to enjoy the prestige and visibility that accompanies a nationally televised game. So when ESPN2 wanted to air the Purdue/Notre Dame game on January 4 even though the Big 10 season had already started, the powers that be in West Lafayette did what they could to make it happen.
The Big 10 game that conflicted with the Notre Dame clash was against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Head coach Lisa Bluder graciously allowed the game to be rescheduled so that the Boilermakers could host the Irish. Part of her willingness to accommodate the Boilers may have been due to the fact that the new date and time was ideal from the Hawkeye's perspective. Bluder's charges had a bye on the Sunday. Thus in the week before Tuesday's match-up against Purdue, Iowa had played only one home game. In contrast, Purdue was playing its third game in a week, two of which were on the road. Curry put a positive spin on the situation, saying that the 3 games in 5 day schedule was preparing the team for the rigors of Big 10 Tournament play, and that having the opportunity to have a game televised was worth the current hassle. But there was little doubt that the Boilers entered the game with a strike or two against them.
There was no hint that the game was going to be a high scoring affair in the first several minutes. Purdue's first basket was a Hicks jump shot with over 2 minutes elapsed. Iowa attempted to run its signature triangle offense, but Purdue has had that number for the past two years. The offense is predicated on the post player receiving the ball on the high block, and then passing to other players making back door cuts. If all the cutters are well guarded, the post player is left out in space with no choice but to attempt to take the ball to the hoop herself or make a jump shot. On Tuesday, neither option worked very well for the Hawkeyes. They were able to connect on enough three point shots, however, to stay in the game. Offensively, Purdue took advantage of the fact that Shereka Wright was much faster than any of her defenders and she was repeatedly able to get to the hoop. With 12 minutes remaining in the half, Purdue was up 15-11. Then Katie Gearlds took over. She was absolutely unconscious and seemingly could not miss. She tied her career high of 17 points in the first half alone, and with three minutes remaining the Boilers were up by 12 at 40-28. At that point, unfortunately, Purdue lost its focus and a series of turnovers, missed shots, and poor post defense allowed Iowa to ride Jennie Lillis right back into contention. The home team closed the gap to 4 points going into the break, 42-38.
The first two minutes of the second half were all Iowa. It looked like the doubts about the team's ability to play 3 quick games were valid and that the Boilers had run out of gas. A missed shot by Wright was followed by two quick fouls by Erika Valek. Jamie Cavey was able to convert one of two free throws to bring the Hawkeyes to within 1 at 42-41 with 18:37 left to play. On the ensuing possession, Shereka did her best Katie Douglas imitation as she stepped in front of a perimeter pass and took it down for an uncontested lay-up. Shereka then went back to her first half practice of beating her defender to the basket. She was fouled on her next shot. Perhaps because they decided that letting her have 2 points was better than giving her a third, Iowa responded by playing no defense at all. For the remainder of the contest, it appeared as if Wright could score at will. Jennie Lillis did her best to keep the Hawkeyes in the game, but Purdue steadily pulled away. When Katie Gearlds hit her first shot of the second half with 12 minutes left to play, Purdue had regained an 8 point lead. This margin remained between 8 and 10 points for much of the second half as the two teams traded baskets. At the three minute media time out the score was 77-67 in the Boiler's favor. Iowa then resorted to fouling to stop the clock. The Purdue players sent to the line were able to convert the majority of their attempts, producing a final score of 90-79.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
Lisa Bluder's defensive philosophy appears to be one of outscoring opponents rather than manufacturing stops, as the Hawkeye's did not concentrate too much on slowing down the Boilers until the final 5 minutes of the game. As one might expect given this set of circumstances, the Boilers were able to ride the hot hands of Wright and Gearlds to a 49% shooting percentage including a blistering 58% accuracy from behind the arc.
The Hawkeyes lived up to their billing as an offensive minded club as they put up 79 points on the Boilers by virtue of 42% shooting. The team takes a huge number of three pointers, and connected on 9 of their 21 attempts for 43%. Despite these gaudy numbers, it should be noted that the Boilers did a very good job shutting down the triangle offense.
After winning the battle of the boards by a 19 to 15 count in the first half, the Boilers let up in the second and at the end of the game Iowa had pulled down 39 rebounds compared to 38 for the Boilers. Perhaps the second half difference could be traced to the large number of fouls picked up by the Boiler posts resulting in less aggressive play under the basket. Lindsey Hicks led the team with 7 caroms.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Boilers were able to connect on 19 of their 24 free throw attempts for 79% on the game. Lindsey Hicks and Sharika Webb were both perfect from the stripe.
The Vegas Gold and Black committed 18 turnovers to 16 assists on the game. Many of the turnovers were unforced or due to poor decision making on the part of the Purdue players. The fatigue of playing the third game in less than a week no doubt played some role in the guard's inability to hold onto the ball. The Boilers looked particularly weak against the Iowa press at the end of the game, and one wonders if the game's outcome wouldn't have been different if this tactic had been employed for a full 40 minutes.
Lindsey Hicks is reported to be looking for more consistency in her game. As Curry has mentioned, she'll have a major impact in one contest only to "disappear" for long stretches in others. Lindsey went a long ways towards correcting this problem on Tuesday as she has now strung together two consecutive games in which she has played exceptionally well. Her contributions against Iowa were lost because of the monster games of Katie and Shereka, but she was easily one of the top three players wearing gold and black. In all Lindsey recorded 11 points (3-7, 1-1 3 pt.er, 4-4 FT), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block to 3 turnovers.
Shereka Wright is being increasingly mentioned as a leading candidate for Big 10 player of the year and a Kodak All-American Any doubts as to whether she's deserving should have been erased on Tuesday. Purdue is currently the fifth best team in the country, and Shereka is the reason why. Against Iowa's plodding defensive pressure she was able to score at will. She is much more than a scorer, however, as she always gets her hands on rebounds and disrupt the other team defensively. Shereka was asked to guard the 6'1" Lillis on occasion, and, although she gave up 4 inches to the Hawkeye star, she was able to shut her down one on one. Shereka finished with a game-high 34 points (13-24, 8-9 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocked shots, and 2 steals to 4 turnovers.
Emily Heikes struggled for most of the night. She appeared solely concentrated on defending as she did not attempt a single shot. Emily's play was limited by the rapid rate at which she picked up fouls, and she was disqualified after only 16 minutes play. Emily did pull down 5 rebounds and recorded 2 steals on the night.
Beth Jones is a very smart person. She has the highest grade point average on the team, and would like to be a lawyer some day. In other words, she's smart enough to realize that when Shereka and Katie are nailing every shot they put up, it is in the team's best interest to pass them the ball. Beth did just that and recorded a team-high 5 assists as a result. There were several times Beth was set up as a three point shooter herself, and as always she played hard nosed defense on the Iowa guards. In all, Beth recorded 4 points (1-5, 1-4 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 1 turnover.
Erika Valek was involved in an odd and frightening play at the end of the game. She had stolen the ball and was fouled hard on the resulting break away lay-up. Because she was able to make the shot, she was awarded an "and one" free throw. However, the fall had visibly shaken her up, and she walked off the court immediately after making her free throw attempt. Her teammates were so stuck by Erika's actions that they made no move to get the rebound, and it fell into the arms of an Iowa player. Confused by the Purdue player's immobility, the Iowa player assumed that another free throw was coming, and tossed the ball to the referee standing out of bounds. It was later revealed that Erika had "tweaked" her knee but that no serious damage occurred. Prior to that point, Erika had been doing an excellent job of pushing the ball quickly up the court. This allowed Purdue to begin most of its offensive sets before the Iowa defenders had time to get into position. On the evening Erika recorded a total of 5 points (2-6, 1-2 3 pt.er, 0-1 FT), 3 rebounds, and 3 each of steals, assists, and turnovers.
In what might be the biggest understatement of the year, Kristy Curry commented after the game that Katie Gearlds presented a match-up problem for the Iowa team. In a word, she defied every attempt to guard her. Initially, Bluder's squad didn't pay much attention to Katie, and her first few shots were relatively uncontested. When it became clear that she wasn't likely to miss when not being guarded, they threw their backcourt players at her. But then the much taller Katie just posted them up for easy buckets down low. Finally, Gearlds commanded the full attention of the Hawkeyes, and they brought Lillis out to help keep her in check. At that point, the savvy freshman calmly found the unguarded player alone under the basket. Katie was on fire, and connected from everywhere on the floor. She had tied her previous career high before the second half had started, and finished 2 points away from Purdue's freshman scoring record. Katie finished the night with a total of 32 points (12-16, 4-4 3 pt.er, 4-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists and only 1 turnover in 30 minutes play.
While the rest of the team was flying to Iowa City on Monday night, Erin Lawless was taking an evening exam. She was then driven over from West Lafayette in order to play the following evening. This, plus lingering soreness from her car accident, might explain why she appeared to be a step slow compared to earlier outings. Erin gave it all she had, however, and competed hard when she was on the court. Erin recorded a total of 2 points (1-3, 0-1 3 pt.er), and 3 rebounds.
Carol Duncan played her trademark physical post defense during her 15 minutes on the floor. Both of her shot attempts missed the mark, perhaps because she was too wide open. Although she failed to score, Carol contributed with 4 rebounds, a block and a steal when she was on the court.
Sharika Webb had trouble hanging onto the ball when she was bringing it up the court, and overall appeared to take a step back when compared to her past several games. She did look for her shot, however, and when fouled in the final minutes knocked down her free throws to record 2 points on the night. Overall, Sharika had 2 points (0-2, 2-2 FT), 1 rebound, 2 assists, and a steal to 2 turnovers.
Purdue was beaten badly two of the first three times they encountered Lisa Bluder's triangle offense. This was in 2001, when Purdue had an extremely talented team - one that made it to the National Championship game. In contrast, Purdue has won their last 4 contests against the Hawkeyes by at least 10 points. The difference is in the coaching. Curry learned from her early experiences, and the Boilers are now able to prevent the back door cuts, easy baskets, and wide open three point shots that the triangle offense generates. This has stood the team in very good stead as other triangle teams, such as Kansas State, have been shut down as well. Curry is still learning and adapting when past decisions do not go as planned. For example, she stated well before the Boilers played Wisconsin that they would get 2 days off after the game. The team was so excited about the prospect that the put in a lackluster effort in their win over the Badgers. After Tuesday's game, Curry stated that the team's only focus was the Northwestern Wildcats and that the team was now not looking ahead as they take things one game, indeed, one day, at a time.
It is always interesting to listen to a game when the Boilers are the visiting team. On many occasions the crowd would react to a "no call" when something done by a Purdue player did not draw a whistle from the officials. Form this Purdue fan's perspective, no foul occurred in any of those instances. On the other hand, the crowd remained silent when a Boiler player was hacked or an Iowa player traveled with the ball. This is to say, more often than not, the officials are right and all the fans who moan about the terrible officiating are wrong.
The official attendance was 3105, although the stadium looked fairly empty as seen on a television screen. The fans that were there were loud as they could be heard via the Fox Sports broadcast more readily than they were seen. The Fox announcers were better than good; actually they were Trey- mendous!
One of the things that separates a great team from the merely good is their ability to play well under adverse circumstances. Great teams pull wins out when they are tired and on the road. The 2003-2004 edition of the Boilermakers is in the process of moving from good to great. This was best demonstrated in the opening minutes of the second half. When Iowa pulled within 1 point, the entire team appeared to increase its resolve and up the level of play. There are still some rough spots and areas for improvement, but the team had demonstrated both the offensive fire power and defensive resolve to be able play with anyone.
With the win the Boilers reach the 20 win plateau for yet another season. They are in a solid tie for first place with Penn State in the conference. The schedule is in their favor, as the only road game before the end-of-season show down in State College is against the toothless Wildcats of Northwestern this Sunday.
Game Ball: Shereka Wright, Katie Gearlds, and Lindsey Hicks.