Big 10 Tournament Semi-Final
Purdue 67, Ohio State 61
One of the more difficult things to accomplish in college basketball is to beat the same team three times in a year. This is particularly true if those teams are evenly matched and the games were closely contested. Purdue is hoping to prove this to be true as they will meet the team which has beaten them twice in a season on Monday night. However, in order to gain the right to meet Penn State for that fateful third time, Purdue first had to record a triple crown of W's over the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State came into the Big 10 tournament semi-final game as one of the Big 10's hottest teams. They had not lost a game since February 8th, when they let a closely contested game at Mackey slip away. All signs pointed to the semi-final match up between the Big 10's second and third seeds being a whale of a game.
The contest started looking very much like a Shereka Wright highlight reel. Perhaps because they were stunned by the Boilermaker's matching black knee socks, the Buckeyes stood and watched Shereka pour in the points. By the first media time out, Purdue was ahead 14-6 and Shereka had already reached double figures. A series of Buckeye steals and the hot shooting of little used Beth Howe allowed OSU to climb back into the game, however, and a Brandie Hoskins three-pointer with a bit over 8 minutes remaining pulled the Bucks back to within 2 at 19-17. The margin remained in the 2 to 4 point range until Shereka Wright went to work to end the half. She scored Purdue's last five points including a buzzer-beating circus shot. The score was 35-23in Purdue's favor when the teams went into the locker room at the half.
The Boiler faithful were extremely worried about déjà vu happening all over again in the second half. The events at State College a week earlier made all who wore Gold and Black to understand that a double digit lead wasn't necessarily a safe lead. Ohio State made a concerted effort to get the ball to their big girls down low, the Bucks gradually reeled in the Boilers and behind LaToya Turner's sharp shooting. When the first media time out came out at 14:26 the lead had been cut to 5 points, 45-40. Two minutes later Indiana-native Candace Dark hit a three point shot to pull Ohio State within 2 points. From that point the game was an extremely close affair. At the 10:50 mark a Matter free throw gave Ohio State their first lead of the game. Valek answered twenty seconds later and Purdue went on top by one. The teams traded one point leads for several minutes. At the seven minute mark the score was tied 54 all. A Beth Jones three pointer then gave the Boilers the lead for good at 57-54. The Buckeyes had another run in them, however, and a Matter lay-up with 2:12 remaining pulled OSU to within 1 point at 62-61. It was then that Shereka Wright took over the game. She put the Boilers up by 3 with a slash to the basket, and then corralled the rebound on the subsequent Buckeye possession. Erika Valek then penetrated to the basket, drew every available defender, and dished to a wide-open Katie Gearlds. Cool as a cucumber, Gearlds nailed the trey to put Purdue up by 6 with less than a minute remaining. In a defensive move, Curry replaced Gearlds with Beth Jones for the final 52 seconds. Jones did her leech imitation, sticking tightly to Matter. In frustration, the Buckeye high-scorer threw up desperation three. Wright once again snared the rebound. OSU had no choice but to foul, and Valek was sent to the line with 27 seconds remaining. Valek missed the front end of the one and one, but the Buckeyes failed to capitalize and the score remained unchanged. The final score was 67-61.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
Two words: Shereka Wright. Shereka did her best Kelly Mazzante imitation as she took 12 more shots than any other Purdue player. Unlike Kelly, however, Shereka connected on over 50% of her attempts. For most of the evening Ohio State played in a 1-3-1 zone and they had trouble keeping up with the Boiler's off ball movement. All of which translates into 54% shooting from the field including 46% from behind the arc.
The Boilers played man to man for most of the night. Caity Matter received particularly intense attention, and was held to 7 points (9 under her average) on 2-9 shooting. Purdue was able to take advantage of the fact that Buckeye Kim Wilburn is not a scoring threat as they ignored her when defending in the half court and used the extra player to double down low.
The Buckeyes did manage to out rebound the Boilers 30-27, proving that having two posts over 6'3" is good for something. The Gold and Black posts did a great job boxing out their taller opponents allowing their shorter teammates to nab the rebounds. At the end of the game, Shereka Wright collected two key boards on the way to sharing a team-high 5 rebound honors with Lindsey Hicks.
Free Throw Shooting:
Ironically, Purdue shot quite poorly from the charity stripe. Despite the physical nature of the game, very few fouls were whistled and only 20 free throws were attempted by both teams in the entire game. The Boilers connected on 5 of their 9 attempts for a 56% mark.
The Boilers recorded 11 assists to 13 turnovers. Kim Wilburn is an extremely quick guard, and she exerted a great deal of ball pressure on many of Purdue's possessions. After getting burned by two straight steals early in the first half, the Boilers made the necessary adjustments by bringing Hicks back to help screen the dribbler. Purdue did a very good job negating the huge height advantage enjoyed by the Buckeyes. Overall, a smart game on the part of the Boilermakers.
Lindsey Hicks' efforts went somewhat unnoticed as the player she was defending was able to post some decent numbers. Hicks prevented her from breaking the game open, however, and defended quite well. She also pulled down some very tough rebounds and played with poise despite getting some truly atrocious fouls called against her. At the end of the night Lindsey had a total of 2 points (1-7, 0-3 3 pt.er), 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 turnovers.
After spending all season pointing out why Shereka Wright was the most deserving athlete for Big 10 Player-Of-The-Year honors, Curry employed a "if you can't beat them, join them" strategy with Shereka against OSU. The offense started and ended with Shereka, and she had a great deal of the middle as well. She had open looks on many occasions, as the post players did not come out from under the basket to prevent jump shots or move very effectively to prevent easy lay-ups. Perhaps the OSU brain trust was reading last year's scouting report by mistake, and failed to notice that Shereka is now a very reliable jump shooter. The great thing about Shereka is that she plays complete game; she prevented Hoskins' dribble penetration and at the end of the game grabbed two huge boards to help seal the win. In a Big 10 Tournament MVP-worthy outing, Shereka recorded 31 points (13-21, 1-2 3 pt.er, 4-6 FT), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals to 5 turnovers. When Shereka recorded her 28th point (on a three point shot no less) she surpassed Stephanie White to become Purdue's second all time leading scorer. Congratulations Shereka.
Emily Heikes had a sign made in her honor. The person waving it got it right as it said: Heikes - All guts, no glory. Emily had her hands full with Davenport on the block, and by and large did a good job in containing the media's selection for freshman of the year. Holding a player to 50% shooting isn't usually seen as a good thing, but Jessica leads the conference in shooting percentage and usually connects on 64% of her attempts. Emily used her quickness to jump in front of Buckeye entrance passes, and, although it is not reflected in the box score, appeared to have several steals in the game. In all, Emily had a total of 2 points (1-2), 3 rebounds, and an assist.
Beth Jones may have been the most valuable player on Purdue's team on Sunday. She spent every minute that she was on the court dogging OSU's high scorer, Caity Matter. Matter was held scoreless in the first half, and never got on track or made a big impact in the game. Unlike other games when Beth has carried a large defensive assignment, she was also able to contribute on the offensive side of the ball as well. Beth knocked down several big three point baskets, and found Wright alone under the basket on several occasions for easy assists. On the night Beth totaled 6 points (2-5, 2-3 3 pt.er), 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 turnover.
Erika Valek 's pull-up jump shot is back. And not a moment too soon. Erika put in another heady performance. She's appeared to have taken a step up in her maturity over the past several games, and it may be that her shooting slump has been one of Curry's trademark "blessings in disguise" as it forced her to find other ways to get the team going. Erika had a chance to showcase her speed as she'd hover under the basket ready to nab any ball a post player pulled down too low. In the second half she outran two very fast Ohio State players to corral a loose ball and preserve a key Purdue possession. Hopefully Erika will ride the momentum of two excellent tournament outings to a third great performance in the title game. In all, Erika had 10 points (5-9, 0-2 3pt.er, 0-1 FT),3 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal to 1 turnover.
If Shereka Wright played Kelly Mazzante for a night, then Katie Gearlds was Jess Brungo. She didn't take many shots, but she had all the daggers. Katie's pocket was picked in the first half, but she quickly adapted to the Buckeye's quick guards and had little problem in the second. Katie was able to use her height to deflect or steal OSU perimeter passes, and made positive contributions every time she was on the court. Katie recorded a total of 13 points (5-6, 3-3 3pt.er), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 4 steals to 1 turnover.
Erin Lawless gives up a few inches to Davenport and Turner, but, like Emily Heikes, she more than makes up by being much more aggressive under the boards. The "no foul unless we see bones or blood" style of officiating agrees with Erin, and played a very heady game for a freshman. Her best play of the game might have been a decisive block on a driving Buckeye. In all, Erin totaled 3 points (1-2, 1-2 FT), 4 rebounds, an assist, a steal, a blocked shot, and a steal.
It appears as if Curry has settled on a 7 player rotation in hotly contested games. Carol Duncan 4 minutes in the second half but did not otherwise dent the box score. Sharika Webb and Ashley Mays did not play.
Add Jim Foster to the list of much heralded coaches that Kristy Curry can beat on most nights. Before the game, Foster was quoted as saying that the Buckeyes had instituted a completely new defensive scheme while for Purdue it was just the "same old same old." Apparently, his new scheme involves not guarding the other team's leading scorer. Meanwhile, the Boilers did everything they needed to do to come out with a win. Curry's substitution pattern deserves special credit as she was able to keep shooters on the floor without sacrificing perimeter defense.
One can only hope that the basketball game that the officials were watching on Sunday night was as entertaining as the one being played out at Conseco between Purdue and Ohio State.
The official attendance was 8524, and this appeared to be an honest figure as the lower bowl was 3/4 filled and there was a large number of people on the club level as well. There was one section of Conseco wearing scarlet and grey while the remaining areas were predominately gold and black. One has to think that the Big 10 powers were thrilled that Purdue will be returning for the final game as they will undoubtedly attract another large crowd.
The Boilers are now 26-3 on the year, and have experienced back-to-back 25 win seasons for the first time in the history of the program. By getting to the tournament final, Purdue has all but assured itself a number 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. They still have an outside shot at a 1 seed if they are able to knock off Penn State on Monday.
The Lady Lions are responsible for a full two thirds of Purdue's losses this year, and Curry's charges would like nothing better than to avenge their earlier defeats as they win the tournament trophy. Penn State is an exceptionally balanced and fast team that has come by its Top 5 national ranking honestly. They should give the Boilers all they can handle in the re-match. Win or lose, the Big 10 Tournament Final looks to be an outstanding basketball game.
Game Ball: The 2004 Senior Class - Shereka Wright, Lindsey Hicks, Erika Valek, and Beth Jones