Before the season began, head coach Kristy Curry stated that the young Purdue Boilermaker squad would experience some "bumps and bruises" as it adjusted to life without last year's 4 senior starters. This suggests nothing negative about the quality of player or intrinsic physical talent. It is just that any team that expects sophomores and freshman to carry the bulk of the defensive and scoring load is bound to have troubles and play with inconsistency. These troubles will be magnified when they are playing a team with a large number of seniors. Seniors don't get rattled and can be expected to make plays down the stretch. On Tuesday evening, the young Boilermakers took on the Houston Cougars - a team that features 4 seniors and a junior in their starting line-up, 2 more seniors coming off the bench, and an All-American candidate in Sancho Lyttle. In addition, their front line players stand 6'2, 6’4, and 6'5. This means that any way you look at it, matching up to the Cougars would be a tall order for the Boilers.
When the game began, the Boilers appeared to be well aware of the challenge, as the entire team was wound tighter than a watch spring. At the 17:47 mark, the Boilers had attempted only one shot to 3 turnovers, and the visitors enjoyed a 5-0 lead. Houston was playing a tight zone, and they spent most of the night daring the Purdue shooters to hit their outside shots. By and large this strategy paid off for Joe Curl’s charges, as the Boilers shot very poorly from behind the arc. The first 6 Purdue points of the game, however, were from a pair of Sharika Webb triples. While the Boilers struggled to score, it seemed as if the Cougars could not miss. Halfway through the first stanza, the Old Gold and Black was trailing by 9 points, 19-10. Towards the end of the half, Gearlds, Jackson, and Lawless began to find their stroke and the Boilers closed the gap. Unforced turnovers or Cougar baskets kept Curry’s charges from getting too close, however, and the half ended with the home team trailing by 6, 36-30.
Any hopes that the momentum Purdue generated at the end of the first half would carry over into the second were dashed when the Cougars scored two quick field goals to go up by 10 points. With a little over 18 minutes remaining, Gearlds hit a “J” to score the Boilers’ first points of the half, and Purdue began its long, painful climb back into contention. On several instances the Boilers would close to within 4 or 5 points. Houston reacted like a team of seniors, however, and never got rattled. Instead, they made the plays to extend the lead. The tide turned three quarters of the way through the second 20 minutes when Lyttle went to the bench with her fourth foul. A pair of Gearlds free throws with 3:46 remaining brought the Boilers to within one, 54-53. The Cougars immediately extended the lead by connecting on two free throws of their own. With 2:46 to play, Erin Lawless was fouled on a successful shot. She missed the “and one” but Katie was there to grab the rebound for a put back. Purdue took its first lead of the night at 57-56 and it finally looked as if the Boilers might squeeze this one out after all. The final minutes of close games is when experience and poise counts for the most, however. Daphne Andre took over the game. First, she sunk a jumper to put Houston back up by one. On the next offensive possession, Sharika Webb drove the lane and dished a perfect pass to Lawless. Erin missed the lay-up, and when Andre hit a back-breaker three pointer all seemed hopeless. A Tye Jackson trey pulled the Boilers back within one at the 44 second mark, and a subsequent Houston turnover kept the door to a Purdue victory slightly open. On the ensuing possession, however, Webb and Gearlds got tangled at the top of the key, and the Boiler’s 20th turnover of the night occurred. Again it was Andre Daphne who corralled the ball. She was fouled in desperation and made both free throws to put the Cougars up by 3, 63-60.
After a final time out Purdue had 5 seconds to get the ball down the court and try to tie the game and force overtime. Webb raced the ball down the court, but her three point attempt failed to connect as time expired. In one of the largest wins in Houston women’s basketball history, the visitors emerged victorious.
Comments of Specific Aspects of the Game:
After an extremely slow start in the first 5 minutes, the team settled down and began to hit their shots. They finished the game a very respectable 41% from the field. The Boiler's failure to consistently hit their three point shots proved to be a large factor in the eventual outcome of the game. The Boilers only hit 7 of their 24 attempts from "downtown" for 29%. Because they could not make their triples, Houston could stay in a zone – clogging the passing lanes and making penetration difficult.
The Boiler's defensive efforts improved over the course of the contest. After allowing the Cougars to hit 57% of their shots in the first half, they were held to 27% in the second. On many instances, ball pressure by either Ashley Mays or Tye Jackson would slow point guard Joann Overstreet down until there were 15 seconds or less on the shot clock when Houston began its half court set. Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot of time to dump the ball down to big girls Lyttle and Harris, so the Cougars did not appear to be hampered very much by this.
It was in the rebounding department that the skills of Sancho Lyttle were most prominently displayed. She grabbed 17 boards as Houston prevailed 41-35 over the Boilers in this category.
Free Throw Shooting:
Teams that shoot less than 50% from the free throw line don't win many games. This point hits home when Purdue could not cash in on 6 opportunities to score from the stripe in a three point game. Plain and simple, if the Boilers are to win against any good team, they will have to do better than the 45% effort exhibited Tuesday. Katie Gearlds and Tye Jackson were perfect from the stripe with each going 2-2.
Although the Boilers recorded 20 turnovers on the evening, their passing was improved over previous contests. In many instances when things went south, it was obvious that one player was zigging while the other was zagging. Overall, the team gives the impression of one that is thinking too much - the passes are a beat too late, which gives the defense time to adjust and disrupt the offensive flow. This was particularly evident as the Boilers brought the ball up against the Houston press. In most instances they were successful, but every pass appeared to be robotic and tentative as they worked the ball over the half court line.
Erin Lawless appeared to be intimidated by Houston's tall trees, and initially did not look to score. After several minutes had elapsed, she took the bull by the horns and became effective when she went straight at her opponents. When she did that, Erin would repeatedly muscle in tough shots. Like most of her teammates, Erin would follow a great play with a bad decision - making her overall effectiveness less than it could be. Erin finished the night with a total of 13 points (6-11, 1-2 3pt.er, 0-1 FT), 7 rebounds, and 2 assists to 4 turnovers.
Emily Heikes had her hands full and then some going against the Cougars tall front line. She succeeded at pushing Lyttle and Kiemona Harris out of position. Unfortunately, they were often fast enough to get around Heikes and arrive at the low block as an entry pass was being made. All of Emily's attentions were focused on the defensive end as she did not attempt a shot all night. In all, she recorded no points, 5 rebounds, and a steal to 2 turnovers.
Katie Gearlds could not buy a three point shot. Whether she is merely going through a slump, her hand or leg injury are slowing her down, or the burden of being a team leader is weighing too heavily on her shoulders, Katie has struggled as a sophomore. (FWIW, Gearlds' couldn't hit anything in warm-ups either, which leads me to suspect that her problem in games is not one of too much pressure). Katie was asked to play point guard at times, and, although she did an adequate job, she did not look particularly comfortable in that role. To her credit, when Katie realized that her outside shot wasn't falling, she found other ways to score - taking the ball inside and hitting her free throws. As is the case with most natural scorers, Katie had a terrible night and still finished in double figures. At the end of the night she had a total of 12 points (5-16, 0-9, 2-2 FT), 1 rebound, 3 assists, 1 blocked shot, and 2 steals to 1 turnover.
Ashley Mays provided her trademark on ball pressure when she was on the court. Her passing and decision making improves every game as well. Until she can be a scoring threat, however, it will be difficult for Ashley to make an impact. Ashley finished with no points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a turnover.
At the center of the Purdue point guard panic is Sharika Webb. Can she or can't she? Will she or won't she? The answer Sharika gave Tuesday night was that she can, and most of the time she will. Sharika's three pointers were the only positives for Purdue in the early going, and by and large she performed her duties well. Particularly heartening was the fact that she did not attempt to force bullet passes through a sea of defenders, and that she recorded more assists than turnovers on the night. Sharika's inexperience was evident in the final minutes of the game, but overall she did a creditable job and looks to be steadily improving. Sharika finished with a total of 8 points (3-8, 2-4 3 pt.er), 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.
While the rest of the team would receive a pass and then stop to think, Tye Jackson would shoot the ball. Tye is a fearless scorer and an active and committed defender. Tye has been the team's high scorer for 2 of their first 4 games, and one has to wonder how long Curry can justify leaving her on the bench. Tye's inexperience was evident when she committed turnovers by forcing the action, but the sky is the limit for this speedy Texan. In 25 minutes Tye recorded 20 points (7-16, 4-8 3 pt.er, 2-2 FT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, a block and 2 steals to 5 turnovers.
Natasha Bogdanova used her long frame to play a disruptive defense. Offensively, she had trouble getting her shot off as her pocket would be picked by the speedy Cougar defenders who would snatch the ball away. When she learns to keep the ball above her shoulders she will be a much more effective offensive threat. Natasha's nerves were evident as she failed to connect on her free throw attempts although she did pull down a rebound and dish out an assist in addition to committing a turnover.
Brina Pollack played 5 minutes, which was just long enough for her to get a feel for the game without being too intimidated. She appeared to be comfortable with the ball, but not ready to run the offense. She did record an assist and a turnover during her time on the court.
Aya Traore gave all the appearance of being out of control on the court, so the decent statistics in the box score come as a surprise. She was extremely active on both ends of the floor, but is still learning the finer points of positioning and shot selection. In five minutes Aya totaled no points (0-3, 0-1 3 pt.er), 3 rebounds, and an assist to 1 turnover.
Lindsey Wisdom-Hilton's potential is impossible to mistake. Her ability to block shots is uncanny, and she had the height to compete effectively against Houston's posts. Even as the level of competition has ramped up, Lindsey looks at ease on the court and is effective without forcing anything. In all, she had a total of 7 points (3-4, 1-2 FT), 4 rebounds, an assist and 2 blocked shots to 1 turnover.
Carol Duncan, Kiki Freeman, and Hannah Anderson did not play.
Kristy Curry was unusually philosophic about the loss. Perhaps this was because she's matured since her first years prowling the sidelines, but more likely it was because she knows what she has (and doesn't have) with the team at this point in time. She also knows that, despite the fact they were not ranked, Houston is an excellent team. Curry might not have been happy with the game's outcome, but the play of the freshman and the team's overall improvement from the opening tip to the final buzzer must have been reasons to feel optimistic about the future. If Purdue had to lose to anyone, Curry would probably just as soon it be Houston as their head coach, Joe Curl, employed Kristy as an assistant coach when he led the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks.
There were times the crowd was extremely displeased with the officiating, particularly when Houston players appeared to be given plenty of extra steps on their way to the hoop. From this perspective, however, the officials did a very good job.
The announced crowd of 8118 lived and died with each Boiler possession. When Purdue was making its comeback in the second half, Mackey became extremely loud, and truly provided a home court advantage.
Things don't get any easier for the Boilers in the next few days. They next travel to California to take on a tough UCSB team and then UCLA. UCLA just knocked off highly-ranked Texas, and looks to be a resurgent program. It is very possible that the Old Gold and Black will return to West Lafayette as a .500 team. If they continue to learn and grow from the experience, however, the shaky start will pay off as the season progresses.
Game Ball: Daphne Andre