Big 10 Tournament, First Round
Purdue 78, Michigan 55
When the Purdue Boilermakers took on the Michigan Wolverines in Conseco Fieldhouse on Friday, it represented the fifth straight year that these two team have met in the Big 10 tournament. Purdue won the first 4, but that was when Sue Guevara was coaching the Wolverines. Her indifference to conditioning was undoubtedly behind Michigan’s perennial late-season swoons. This year, there’s a new sheriff in Ann Arbor. Guevara was dismissed to be replaced by Cheryl Burnett. Burnett brought her previous team, Southwest Missouri State, to the Final Four on two separate occasions, and has earned a reputation as a hard-nosed perfectionist. Michigan has a long way to go till it can be considered one of the Big 10’s elite, but they are finally playing like an organized unit A seven seed, the Wolverines had little trouble handling the ten seed Illinois, and advanced to take on second seeded Purdue.
At the beginning of the game, one team played as if they knew this might be their last game of the year, and one team played as if they hadn't been on the court for a week. The Wolverines were finding Jennifer Smith, one of the best centers in the conference, and hitting their pull up jump shots. Meanwhile, Purdue looked a little rusty as they missed on some easy looks. At the first media time out, the score was 2-6 in the Maize and Blue's favor and the Boilers had yet to make field goal. Right out of the time out, Emily Heikes put in a layup to pull her team within two, and a Shereka Wright 16 footer produced the game’s first tie. The Wolverines weren't about to lie down, however, and they regained the lead immediately on a Tabitha Pool trey. This pattern was repeated several times as Purdue pulled to a tie or went ahead by one at 13- 13 and 16-15 only to see Michigan answer and regain the lead less than 20 seconds later. A Heikes basket with a little less than 8:30 left to play finally put Purdue up for good at 18-17. The teams kept it close for the remainder of the half. The final sequence of the half deserves special mention. Michigan was moving the ball in the half court looking for the final shot when a travel violation was whistled with 2.8 seconds remaining. Purdue attempted to inbound the ball at the half court, but the ball was stolen by a Michigan player who was able to toss it to one of her teammates as she was falling down. The second player’s desperation toss banked in at the buzzer to pull the Wolverines within 3, 33-30.
As Curry promised in her end-of-the-half interview, the Boilers were able to take it up a level in the second half. The Vegas Gold and Black came out hitting its shots, and was able to slowly increase the lead. They were ahead -- 44-38 with 13 minutes remaining when Katie barred the door. Gearlds hit three straight treys. Less than two minutes later the Boilers led by 13 points and the rout was on. Purdue quickly ran up the point margin to over twenty points. The large lead allowed Curry to give every available player extended minutes, and to a woman they played extremely well. Most encouraging was the fact that the Wolverines were not able to get the lead less under the 20 point mark when the bench players were in the game. The final score was 78-55 in the home team's favor.
Comments of Specific Aspects of the Game:
After hitting 12-31 for 39%, the Boilers hit at a 54% clip in the second for a game total 46%. This included white-hot shooting from behind the arc as Purdue made 7 or their 13 attempts from “downtown“. Behind these excellent statistics was a balanced and intelligent offensive attack.
Michigan committed 18 turnovers, 8 of which were credited as Purdue steals. Many of the others were due to the Boiler's pressing defense. Jennifer Smith presented a formidable challenge, and although she did get her points, the Boilers were able to prevent her from keeping over the game.
No doubt the one facet of the Boilermaker’s game which has improved the most since November has been rebounding. Purdue now regularly out rebounds its opponent, and Friday evening was no exception. The Boilers won the battle of the boards 37-30. It was an extremely balanced effort, as all 10Purdue players pulled down at least one rebound during their time on the court. Shereka Wright led the team with 9 caroms.
Like the field goal shooting from the floor, Purdue's free throw shooting improved markedly between the first and second half. Overall, the team connected on 19-27 charity tosses for 70%. Emily Heikes and Katie Gearlds were perfect from the stripe, with both going 2-2.
If one was to point to the statistic which best indicates the team is poised to make a deep tournament run, their team 2 to 1 assist-to-turnover margin might be the one. The Boilers recorded 19 assists to 8 turnovers on the evening. The team moved the ball extremely well in the half court, pushed the ball in transition without forcing bad passes, and generally played an extremely intelligent game.
Lindsey Hicks plays much better when she's angry. On Friday she was wrestled to the ground midway through the first half and appeared to take exception to the rough handling. She became much more aggressive after that and, as a result, made a much greater impact. Lindsey has been playing the best basketball of her career lately, and Friday was another excellent outing. In all, Lindsey recorded 10 points (4-8, 2-3 3 pt.er), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal.
Shereka Wright was involved in a midcourt collision early in the game, and was banged around a great deal under the basket the entire game. Perhaps because of her rough handling, Shereka was uncharacteristically short on a few lay-ups. Otherwise she played her usual superior game. She recorded a total of 16 points (4-15, 0-1 3 pt.er, 8-12 FT), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 turnover.
Emily Heikes is now consistently making lay ups when plays are run for her, and had more of an offensive mindset than she exhibited in earlier games. Foul trouble limited her minutes, and the rest she earned against Michigan should earn dividends when Purdue takes on Ohio State on Sunday. In all, Emily recorded 8 points (3-6, 2-2 FT), 2 rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Beth Jones has been in a bit of a shooting slump lately, and plays are being run for her in order to her her some open looks. Beth is now taken very seriously when she's behind the arc, and the defender who must come out to cover her opens up the middle for slashing plays. Beth apparently recovered from her stomach flu as she played the gritty floor game the Boiler faithful have come to expect from the senior. Beth made a total of 7 points (1-3, 1-3 3 pt.er, 4-5 FT), 1 rebound, 3 assists, and 2 turnovers.
If one considers a basketball game a work of art, then Erika Valek's game on Friday was a masterpiece. She did absolutely everything anyone could ask of a senior point guard. She dictated the game's tempo, directed Purdue's offense, and maintained tireless ball pressure. Most impressive was Erika's shot selection. She never hunted a shot, but scored easily when the opportunities arose within the flow of the offense. Erika finished the evening with 7 points (3-4, 1-1 3 pt.er, 0-1 FT), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, a blocked shot, three steals and a big fat goose egg in the turnover column.
Either Katie Gearlds is a wizard at eluding defensive pressure, or other teams still don't take her seriously as a scoring threat. Kate blew the game open by connecting on three consecutive three pointers, and she was as open on the third as she was on the first. Having Katie on the court along with Shereka Wright forces other teams to make some difficult decisions about double teaming and helping off, and her starter‘s minutes are an indication that the coaching staff sees this. Katie's defensive game was a step above many of her earlier contests, and she continues to exhibit excellent court vision and passing skills. Katie recorded a total of 15 points (5-13, 3-5 3 pt.er, 2-2 FT), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers.
Erin Lawless gave the Boiler faithful a scare as she went out of the game in the first half with a noticeable limp. Later it was reported that she had banged her knee in a collision, and that no serious injury occured. Erin returned in the second half and played perhaps her best game in a Boiler uniform. She provided good defensive pressure on Michigan's tall trees, and exhibited an uncanny knack of snaking in every shot she threw up. Erin finished with 12 points (5-7, 2-3 FT), 3 rebounds, a steal, and 2 turnovers.
Ashley Mays made the most of her time on the court. She looked extremely comfortable within the flow of the offense and exerted good ball pressure on the Wolverine guards. She scored her 2 points on a beautiful back door play set up by Sharika Webb. Ashley also pulled down a rebound.
Carol Duncan was a living demonstration of the old adage that you only score on the shots you attempt, as she made no shot attempts and, as a result, scored no points. One reason was that when she did take the ball to the hoop, she was called for an extremely questionable charging call. Carol also pulled down 2 rebounds and commit a turnover in 8 minutes play.
Sharika Webb played the point extremely well on Friday. She dished out 4 assists in her 9 minutes on the court. When Sharika’s stat.s are combined with Erika Valek‘s, Purdue's point guards played 42 minutes, recorded 7 assists and committed no turnovers in the game. Sharika did not attempt a field goal, but scored 1 point when she connected on one of her two free throw attempts. Sharika also pulled down a rebound during g her time on the floor.
When Conseco Fieldhouse contains over 6000 cheering fans, 2 bands, and seemingly never ending Big 10 commercials on the Jumbotron it is not a quiet place. Nevertheless, Kristy Curry could be clearly heard screaming at the officials towards the end of the first half. For the record, she was asking what 50 had to do to get a foul call under the hoop. The Boilers had just spent a week stewing over their tough loss at Penn State and it would have been very easy for them to in a poor mental state. Michigan is a perfect spoiler team, as they are just good enough to trip up a better squad if they are being overlooked. Despite the distractions, the Boilers appeared to be focused to the task at hand, and credit for this must go to the coaching staff.
The officials are in full post-season mode, as they allowed very physical play. Every missed shot was followed by a full rugby scrum under the basket, and on many instances all manner of contact was allowed as the point guard attempted to bring the ball up the court. In addition to not whistling fouls, traveling appears to be getting a free pass in the Tournament. In instance after instance (in every game at Conseco) the posts were allowed extremely liberal "step through" moves without getting flagged for steps.
The official attendance was not listed in the box score, although a number greater than 6,000 was announced over the loud speaker in Conseco. For the Boilers it was truly Mackey South as Purdue fans outnumbered those of the other teams by a wide margin. From an organizer's perspective, the Big 10 powers were probably very happy to see Purdue play the no. 2 seed game as it started at 6:00 - a much better time for attracting fans than the first seed's noon tip-off time.
With the win the Boilers improve to 25 -3 on the season. What is more, they will finish with no worse than 5 losses on the year, as from this point on a loss results in removal from both the Big 10 and NCAA tournament. The next step on the way to winning the Big 10 tournament championship is third-seed Ohio State. The Buckeyes outlasted a weakened Minnesota team to advance to the semi-finals immediately after Purdue left the court. Purdue swept the regular season series against the Buckeyes. Ohio State knocked a higher seed in last year's tournament, however, and they are an extremely dangerous team.
Game Ball: Erika Valek