There is something very odd about the 2003-2004 edition of the Purdue Boilermakers. In contrast to virtually every basketball team on every level, the Lady Boilers are playing better on the road than they are in the "friendly confines.” They are knocking down a higher percentage of their shots and have averaged more points per game in hostile arenas. So, perhaps for the first time ever, the fact that the Boilers handled the Fighting Illini easily in Champaign earlier in the season did not necessarily portend an even easier victory when the two teams met in Mackey Arena. The Illini have not won in West Lafayette for 18 years, however, so there's no denying that a win on Thursday evening by Teresa Grentz's charges would be a major upset indeed. The women's college basketball world has been full of upsets this year, however, and Illinois is a team with enough athletic ability to make a surprise win a possibility.
Shortly after the opening tip, however, it was clear that there was no upset in the works on Thursday. When Shereka Wright hit a 16-foot jump shot with 18:40 minutes left to play to make the score 2- 0, the home team went ahead for good. Purdue was all business at the beginning of the game, and by the first media time out enjoyed a 7-0 lead. Illinois, meanwhile, was having a very difficult time holding onto the ball. When they did manage a shot it was usually a desperation toss which came nowhere near to connecting. Purdue ran the score to 9-0 before the Orange and Blue finally cracked the scoring column. At that point, unfortunately, the Boilermakers began playing down to the visiting team’s level. Their play became increasingly sloppy as the half wore on. To Coach Curry's great displeasure, the contest degenerated into an ugly combination of traded turnovers, poor defensive stands, and otherwise sub par performance. Because the Illini were equally sloppy, however, they were never able to cut into the Boiler's lead. A series of time outs and substitutions from both benches brought the game back under control a bit, and when the first twenty minutes were over the Boilers enjoyed a 28-19 lead.
Illinois came out some emotion and was able to cut into the Boiler’s margin. They drew within 8 before the Boilers once more began hitting their shots and ramping up the defense. When Katie Gearlds hit her first three pointer with 16:29 remaining the home team was again up by 19 points - 42-23. Illinois was able to capitalize on the penetrating ability of Tiffanie Guthrie and Angelina Williams to keep the score respectable. Although the visitors were not able to cut the lead to single digits in the remainder of the game, they were never more than 20 points behind the home team either. The final margin was 16 points - 65-49.
Comments of Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Boilers shot a lukewarm 35% for the game, including 24% from behind the arc. There was no immediately obvious reason why the Boilers failed to connect, as the shot selection was quite good. The improved second half shooting -- 42% -- was one of the biggest positives to come out of the game.
The Illini shot a horrid 10% from behind the arc and a mere 34% from the field overall. They committed 23 turnovers of which 12 were credited as Purdue steals. While it would be tempting to credit these statistics to the Boiler's superior defensive pressure, in fact the Illini's poor ball handling and shooting appeared to be mainly of their own doing.
The Boilers only crept into the positive numbers in rebounding differential for the season when they won at Northwestern in their previous contest. They extended the trend as they soundly out rebounded the Orange and Blue, 44 to 39. Emily Heikes used her speed and timing to nab a game-high 12 boards.
Purdue connected on 17 of their 22 free throw attempts for a 77% mark on the game. Lindsey Hicks, Shereka Wright and Emily Heikes were all perfect from the line.
Purdue committed a total of 17 turnovers, and many of those appeared to be due to poorly considered perimeter passes. The Boilers did an excellent job of slowing the game down and not getting sucked into playing the run and gun game that Illinois prefers. On many of the trips down the court the point guard in Gold and Black would pull the ball out and set up in the half court rather than force a transition basket. As a result, 15 of the Boiler's 22 made baskets were assisted.
Lindsey Hicks took a page from the Incredible Hulk. She began the game as her normal, mild-mannered self. The Illini game plan seemed to be to get physical with the senior power forward, and Brittney Daugherty, in particular, pounded Lindsey every chance she got. Lindsey responded by getting angry - and Illinois sure didn't like it when she got angry. Lindsey became the aggressor. She asked for the ball and then sunk over half of her shot attempts. No doubt Curry would love it if other teams played Hicks in the same fashion. On the night Lindsey recorded 9 points (4-7, 0-2 3 pt.er, 1-1 FT), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block to 3 turnovers.
Shereka Wright has been troubled by a sore back, and when the ball was dead she'd hobble up and down the court like an old lady. When the game was on, however, she appeared as potent as always. Purdue is most effective when Shereka receives the ball early in the offensive set as then other teams are forced to react to her every move. Shereka can be counted on to make something good happen if she gets the ball with the shot clock winding down as well. In all, Shereka recorded a game-high 18 points (7-18, 0-1 3 pt.er, 4-4 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocked shots, to 1 turnover.
According to part time color commentator Kathleen Offer, Emily Heikes knows why she's on the court. That reason is to grab rebounds and play tough defense. Emily certainly appeared to be with the program on Thursday as she excelled in both those aspects of the game. She made life miserable for Cindy Dallas, Illinois' experienced and physical post player, and was around every loose ball. Nobody's going to complain if she also puts up a few points, of course, but Emily gets her shot attempts from offensive boards as the team rarely runs plays for her. Emily finished with a total of 4 points (0-3, 4-4 FT), 12 rebounds, 1 assist and 3 steals to 1turnover.
Beth Jones was given her share of open looks from behind the arc, but was not connecting at her usual clip. Perhaps for the first time in her career, Beth responded by putting it on the deck and attacking the basket. In the majority of instances her drives failed to connect. If Beth could add the dribble drive to her set of basketball skills she would become that much more difficult to guard. Beth recorded 5 points (2-8, 1-5 3 pt.ers), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Erika Valek again pushed the ball up the court extremely quickly without allowing the Boilers to get out of control. She did not hit a high percentage of her shots from the floor, but she appears to be the person that will step up and nail a key basket when Purdue needs one the most. Erika's time on the court was somewhat limited when she tripped over an Illinois player's foot and turned her ankle. Although she hobbled off the court with an ice pack wrapped to the affected part, she returned to play some minutes later and no mention of the injury was made in post game comments. One assumes she'll be good to go on Sunday. In all, Erika recorded 6 points (2-7, 2-4 3 pt.er), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 steals to 1 turnover.
After she went 1-4 in the first half, Curry had some words for Katie Gearlds at the intermission. Although she did not reveal her exact words, the head coach opined that they might have made Katie mad. Katie's thoughts on the matter did not make it into the paper, but her actions demonstrated that she had listened well. Her intensity and shooting touch were both much improved in the second stanza. Katie hit double figures yet again with a total of 11 points (5-13, 1-3 3 pt.er), 1 assist and 1 steal to 2 turnovers.
Ashley Mays was inserted into the game towards the end of the first half, and immediately got a steal which she converted into a fast break basket. Curry rewarded Ashley's hard play with more minutes in the second, and Mays acquitted herself quite well in that time. Mays' passing skills are notably improved from earlier in the year, and one hopes she will continue to see more minutes as her level of play improves. Ashley finished with a total of 2 points (1-1, 0-1 FT), 2 assists, and 1 steal to 2 turnovers.
Erin Lawless held her own against the Illinois post players. One has to think that when Teresa Grentz watches her she thinks of what might have been. Boiler fans, meanwhile, are very glad she elected to cross the border to attend a school in Indiana. Erin's sole field goal was a quick line drive from the free throw line, and she connected on 6 of her 8 free throw attempts for 8 points on the night. Erin also pulled down 8 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal to 2 turnovers.
When Carol Duncan hit one of her two free throw attempts with less than 30 seconds to go at the end of the game, she became the 10th and last eligible Boilers to score. Like Emily, Carol knows that her minutes hinge on her ability to defend and rebound. It should be noted that she does initiate many offensive sets when she is on the court and rarely commits turnovers. Carol scored 1 point (1-2 FT), and pulled down 3 boards in 12 minutes.
Sharika Webb had a rough outing. She had troubles both throwing and receiving catches and failed to hit from the floor. When she left the court late in the second half she was visibly upset, and Curry spent quite a few minutes talking to the sophomore. There's no questioning Sharika's ability to see the court and her passing skills, and one hopes she keeps working until all the pieces fall into place. On the night, Sharika recorded a point (0-2, 1-2 FT), 2 assists, and a steal to 3 turnovers.
Coach Curry was not a happy camper in the first half when the Boilers lost their intensity. She spent most of the waning minutes of the first stanza making quick substitutions and screaming at her charges. The message was certainly received as the Boilers came out with much more intensity in the second stanza. The coaches were even seen smiling with eleven minutes left to play and the Vegas Gold and Black up by 16.
This was an extremely physical game, and the officials allowed all manner of banging, pushing, and shoving to go on under the basket. At least they were consistent as they didn't call touch fouls or hand checks either. The “call-of-the-day” appeared to be jump ball as the officials called an amazing number of tie-ups.
The official attendance was given as 8476, and with the exception of a handful of Illinois fans, they were all enthusiastic supporters of the home team. All 8476 gasped as one when Erika hit the floor late in the game. Special credit should be given to the band, Gold and Black Sound, and the Gold Rush as they go a long ways towards providing Mackey’s winning atmosphere.
With the win Purdue goes to 22 - 2 on the season including 12-1 in Big 10 play. Their current Big Ten 12 game winning streak is second longest in the program’s history, surpassed only by the 1999 team’s perfect 16-0 mark. The Boilers are very much in charge of their own destiny as they take on the teams tied for third place in the conference - Michigan State and Iowa - at home before their end of season show down with co-leader Penn State.
Game Ball: Emily Heikes