In the world of college sports, every year is a new beginning. A team that barely breaks .500 one year might not change its core players; yet win a conference title the next. In most instances teams improve as they age and mature, but there are also times when lineups take inexplicable steps back. Nobody knows this better than the Western Michigan University Broncos. The MAC squad finished with a 19-13 record in 2003-2004. Despite bringing back 4 starters, the team has lost all 4 of its games this year. To make matters worse, they also lost their leading scorer, Casey Rost, 2 games into the season. No doubt Ron Stewart's charges will eventually regroup and adjust, but it wasn't going to happen Sunday on Keady Court against a rapidly-improving Boilermaker squad.
From the opening tip, it was clear that the Boilers had been working on improving their slow starts. They got out of the blocks quickly, scoring 9 points before the first media time-out. As is so often the case, however, by concentrating on one thing they neglected something else. In this case it was defense; as Western Michigan had no trouble scoring 9 quick points of their own in the same time span. Curry was none too pleased with her charges inability to stop the ball, and inserted 5 new players after the break. They responded like one might expect ice-cold bench players to respond- they promptly gave up 6 more points to put WMU up 15-9. The message had been sent, however, and the starters played with more defensive intensity when they were reinserted into the game. The Broncos had no answer for either Lawless or Traore on the low block, and a string of makes allowed the home team to overtake the visitors and then to stretch out a lead. At the half, the Boilers led by the score of 30-23.
In the second half, the Boilers played like the Top 25 team everyone knows they can be. They took care of the ball, ran an efficient offense in the half court, looked for transition opportunities, and defended well. The Old Gold and Black built on its lead steadily throughout the final 20 minutes. With few exceptions, Purdue was able to maintain its intensity no matter who was on the court. The Broncos, meanwhile, threw in the towel shortly after the second half got under way. In the final 10 minutes they appeared to be going through the motions, allowing Curry to spread the minutes liberally and for the Boiler players to pad their stat.s. The final score was 74-42.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Boilers shot at a 34% clip in the first half, and spent much of the time running a deliberate offense through half court sets. When they opened things up in the second, they used their defense to generate easy fast break baskets. The Boilers had 28 points off turnovers, and in the vast majority of instances these were break away lay-ups. As one might expect, the shooting percentage from lay-ups was quite high - and 53% efficiency was achieved in the second stanza.
For the first time all season, Purdue became the aggressor defensively. As the game wore on, players became increasingly successful when stripping the ball from Bronco guards, stepping into passing lanes, and exerting constant ball pressure. In response to this pressure, WMU turned the ball over 24 times, and 17 of those instances were credited as Purdue steals. In addition, the Broncos were held to 27% shooting on the afternoon.
Purdue won the battle of the boards by the slimmest of margins 43-42. Perhaps increasing rebounding efficiency will become a future point of emphasis for the team. There did seem to be an improved commitment to boxing out when compared to earlier games.
Purdue reached one of Curry's often quoted goals as they made exactly the same number of free throws that the other team attempted - 15 in both instances. Those 15 makes were realized from 23 attempts for a 65% rate. Tye Jackson was the only Boiler who was perfect from the line as she sunk her lone attempt.
WMU did not press or trap, giving the Boiler backcourt another chance to move the ball without undo pressure. Although there were a couple sets when an excited player would rocket an uncatchable pass, in the majority on instances the team played under control and took good care of the ball. As a team the Boilers recorded 21 assists to 12 turnovers, an excellent ratio.
Sharika Webb returned to the starting line-up, and, although she didn't look for her shot this time out, she did a credible job. Sharika gave the opposition a taste of the medicine she'd been fed by the bucket earlier in the year as she was able to create steals in the open court, and act as a potent disruptive force on defense. Sharika recorded a total of 2 points (1-1) 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals, to 2 turnovers.
Erin Lawless was covered one on one for most of the game, and she took full advantage of the mismatch, putting in 10 of 15 shot attempts and scoring a career-high 26 points. It appeared as if she could score at will when she got the ball within 10 feet of the basket. Erin was aggressive on both ends of the court, and played with intensity whenever she was on the floor. In all, Erin scored 26 points (10-15, 6-7 FT), and recorded a team-high 7 rebounds, an assist, and a blocked shot to 1 turnover.
Emily Heikes looked for her shot but had trouble connecting. In all other aspects of the game, Emily played with the same scrappy style that the Mackey faithful have come to know and love. She was particularly effective in stepping in front of post players to get steals on entry passes. Emily totaled 5 points (1-6, 3-4 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots, and 3 steals.
Katie Gearlds appeared more comfortable that she has in recent games She let the game come to her - shooting when she had an open look and passing it off when she was covered. Katie re-tweaked her leg towards the end of the game, and one hopes it will recover quickly. KG ended the afternoon with 13 points (6-9, 1-3 3pt.er, 0-1 FT), 1 rebound, 2 assists, and 1 steal to 2 turnovers.
Tye Jackson still appears to be bothered by her sore ankle as she went "0 for" in three point attempts. When she took the ball aggressively to the basket she was able to score, and her loaded stat line indicates how well she played in other aspects of the game. In all Tye recorded 3 points (1-11, 0-5 3 pt.er, 1-1 FT), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and no turnovers.
It was reported that Aya Traore has been receiving extra coaching on her shooting technique from Jannon Roland. The tutoring certainly appears to be working as Aya was extremely efficient from the floor including connecting on 1 of 2 three point attempts. Aya's entire game took a large step up and she had a very good outing. Aya finished the afternoon with 13 points (6-11, 1-2 3 pt.er), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Carol Duncan failed to score on her lone attempt, but looked comfortable on the court. She does a good job with ball movement on the offensive end, and is always a tenacious rebounder and defender. Carol remains a foul magnet, as she was whistled for 3 infractions in her 9 minutes of play. In all, Duncan pulled down 2 rebounds and recorded 2 assists and a steal.
As much as Carol Duncan attracts fouls, Natasha Bogdanova draws them. No doubt this is a reflection of her tendency to "take it hard to the rack" whenever she receives the ball. Natasha didn't connect on her field goal attempts. She continues to defend and rebound with great energy, but needs to work on controlling the ball when she's playing. Natasha had a total of 3 points (0-2, 3-6 FT), 1 rebound, and 3 turnovers.
Brina Pollack has been elevated to back up point guard, and contributed 14 solid minutes in that role. The best thing that can be said about her is that she was invisible in a good way - not making any mistakes that would draw attention. Brina had a "pass-first" line with no points from one attempt, but did get 3 assists, 3 steals, and no turnovers.
Ashley Mays' difficulty scoring is limiting her playing time as she is noticeably improved in all other aspects of her game. One no longer has to hold one's breathe when she has the ball, and her passing is much better than in earlier games. Ashley recorded 1 point (0-3, 1-2 FT), 1 rebound, 2 assists, a block and a steal in 9 minutes.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton has played in only 8 games, and is already in the top 20 of all Purdue freshmen in blocked shots. Her ability to get her mitts on the ball - both from in front of or behind a shooter- is truly exceptional. Lindsay continues to play with a maturity beyond her years - as she takes high percentage shots and rebounds and defends like an experienced upperclassman. At the end of the afternoon, Lindsay had recorded 7 points (3-5, 1-1 3 pt.er), 5 rebounds, 4 blocked shots, and 3 steals to 2 turnovers.
Hannah Anderson played for the final 2 minutes and recorded her first point of the season when she sank one of two free throw attempts. Kiki Freeman did not play.
After the game, coach Kristy Curry explained that much of the previous week's practices had been concentrated on individual instruction concerned with learning (or re-learning) such basics as how to pass, receive a pass, and shoot the ball. As demonstrated by the season-low 12 turnovers and generally improved level of play, this has been time well spent. Curry has notched up her expectations, as she was less forgiving of in-game lapses than she was at the beginning of the year. On two occasions she replaced all 5 players in order to communicate her displeasure on the demonstrated lack of focus and effort. It appears as if a starting lineup has declared itself, as it would be difficult to imagine Curry going away from the Webb-Jackson-Gearlds-Lawless-Heikes quintet any time soon.
The officials did a fine job. They were thoughtful enough to give the home crowd a reason to test their tonsils a time or two, but overall they could not be faulted.
The announced crowd of 8594 was fairly rowdy at the beginning of the game. As the lead grew past double digits the noise decreased. Hannah Anderson's free throw at the end of the game, however, garnered the most enthusiastic cheering of the afternoon.
In their next game the Boilers get a chance to test their new-found ability to hang onto the ball and play as a cohesive unit against one of the better teams in the country. Duke is currently ranked third in the AP poll, and has recently knocked off Tennessee in Knoxville. There is no doubt that they will press and trap relentlessly unless Purdue makes them pay by breaking the pressure and scoring easy buckets on the other end. Purdue may not be to the point were they can pull out a win, but playing a team of Duke's caliber will prove more beneficial in the long run than a dozen blow outs against less talented squads.
Game Ball: Erin Lawless