At the beginning of the year, Purdue head coach Kristy Curry stated that the team was young, and that it would suffer its share of bumps and bruises along the way. Nobody knew at the time that this assessment was wild-eyed optimism on her part. A more accurate statement would be that they would suffer fractures and concussions. There's no use dressing it up or softening the wording any more. When the Boilermakers took on the Minnesota Gophers on Thursday night they were on the losing end of a good old-fashioned beat down, plain and simple.
Things started off well enough. In the first 5 minutes nearly everything went the Boilers' way. Any doubts that the game would be extremely physical were put to rest when Sharika Webb was leveled by Janel McCarville's forearm on a particularly vicious screen. Sharika exited the game before a minute had been played out. The entire team seemed energized by the event, and they played with a great deal of energy and confidence. In one notable sequence, Webb's replacement, Brina Pollack, rushed over to provide help side defense on a driving Shannon Schonrock and blocking the ball to another Boiler. This was the start of a fast break that ended with a silky smooth Katie Gearlds three pointer in transition. The trey put the Boilers up by 10, 16-6. What's more, next summers' top WNBA draft pick, McCarville, had already picked up her second foul and exited the floor. As it turned out, the other Gophers didn't need her. Minnesota had played several games earlier in the year without their star, and they brought back 3 other starters from a Final Four team. The Gophers adjusted and dug in for the long haul. In response, the young Boilermakers went into one of their patented sub-zero shooting slumps. A string of poor passes allowed the Gophers to rapidly get into the game by making steals and break-away lay-ups. The game was soon tied at 16. Purdue responded and was able to regain the lead. Later in the first half, however, Erin Lawless hit the deck hard after a rebounding scrum. She got up slowly with a noticeable limp, and was at less than full strength for the remainder of the night. The Gophers regained the lead on the strength of Schonrock's outside shooting, and went into the locker room ahead by 9, 33-24.
It is very possible that one thought was going through every Boiler's mind at the start of the second period. That thought might have been, "My God, if Minnesota can outscore us by 9 without McCarville, what's in store with her." Perhaps it wasn't that worry so much as the distractions of having yet another player dinged up, as Sharika Webb was held out of the game for medical reasons. For whatever reason, the Boilers fell to pieces. They did a reasonable job in on the defensive side of the ball at first, but the team became increasingly unsettled by their collective inability to find the basket. When the wheels came off totally, their defensive intensity waned as well. When it was all over, Minnesota recorded its first win in Mackey arena in 17 years by defeating the Old Gold and Black by 20 points - 58-38.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Boilermakers hit their first 7 shots, but only connected on 8 for the remainder of the game for a 32% average. All manner of shots - contested and uncontested - were missed. On many offensive possessions, the team looked as if it was locked into running a particular play no matter what defense the Gophers had out there. Many times open Boilers would not even glance at the basket or at open teammates as they attempted to force the ball through thickets of defenders or made predictable perimeter passes that were easily picked off.
The one silver lining on Thursday was that the Boilers played excellent defense for most of the night. Despite degenerating into Chinese Fire Drill mode late in the game, they held Minnesota to under 60, and limited probable Big 10 player-of-the-year McCarville to a single point. The team had trouble getting out on Shannon Schonrock, and her 7-11 three point shooting is what won the game for the Gophers. Minnesota was held under 40% shooting as a team (39%), and committed 24 turnovers, 10 of which were credited as Purdue steals.
The Boilers were badly out rebounded - 40-27. On many offensive possessions, there were no Boilers anywhere near the boards after a shot went up as the entire team seemed to be so intent on preventing transition buckets that they did not look to make put backs. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was the exception that proved the rule as she pulled down a game-high 10 boards.
Free Throw Shooting:
Credit (or blame) for the Boiler's 50% mark from the charity stripe goes to the team's discombobulated mental state. No player made all her attempts.
Yuk. Right now the team is playing very "young", which is to say ugly. With freshman Brina Pollack stepping into the starting point guard spot, the learning curve is bound to remain steep for the next several contests.
Although Purdue lost the war, Emily Heikes won her private battle with Janel McCarville. Emily was able to match up to the muscular center, pushing Janel off the block and being fast enough to denying her attempts to "put it on the deck" and get by her. Foul trouble held Emily back, and she was eventually disqualified. Before that happened, she recorded 7 points, (2-4, 3-4 FT), 3 rebounds, an assist, a block, and 3 steals to 1 turnover.
It was reported in the Journal and Courier that Erin was injured in Sunday's game against Michigan and that she sat out Tuesday's practice. In addition, she appeared to sprain her ankle in the first half, and was well under 100% after that. Perhaps it was for those reasons that Erin did not play like her usual self. In all, Erin recorded 7 points (3-9, 1-4 3 pt.er), 2 rebounds, an assist and 3 steals to 2 turnovers.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was the best Boilermaker on the court Thursday, and her already sky-high stock rose even further. This could easily have been the most physical game of Lindsay's career, but she held her own for much of the night. Lindsay recorded a double double; pulling down 10 boards and scoring 10 points (5-10, 0-1 3 pter, 0-2 FT) in addition to recording a team-high 4 assists, 2 blocked shots, and a steal to 3 turnovers.
Katie Gearlds had to deal with Minnesota's defensive stopper - Jamie Broback- for the night. Jamie was able to shut her down; as Katie will look to make a pass rather than force up a bad shot. She only connected on 1 of her 9 attempts, and most of those were rushed efforts made as the shot clock was ticking down. Katie's role has been redefined so many times she now looks tentative on the offensive end. One hopes things straighten out soon, as the team can not win many games without double figure contributions from the Beech Grove native. Katie had a good defensive game, as she pulled down 4 rebounds and had 2 assists and 4 blocked shots to 2 turnovers.
Sharika Webb was sent to the ground by a McCarville forearm with less than 30 seconds elapsed in the game. She was inserted into the game a few more times in the first half, but was not effective although she did pull down a rebound and commit a turnover. She did not come out of the locker room until late in the second half, and it was reported later that she could possibly be suffering from a concussion. Concussion or not, Sharika is now residing in the sub-basement of the Curry doghouse. The coach took pains to clarify that she had made the decision not to start Webb in the second half before she heard from the medical staff, and the events were related in a way meant to suggest that Webb only "discovered" her injury after the demotion.
Brina Pollack came in for the injured Webb. Although she made her share (and then some) of freshman mistakes, she also demonstrated a competitive spark and the evidence that she is rapidly turning into a player that can make a positive difference on the court. She attacked the basket ferociously, and was rewarded with free throws on several instances. Brina also has a very good handle, and can bring the ball up the court without committing unforced turnovers. What she hasn't yet mastered is initiating an offensive flow and making wise entry passes. This is something that will only come with experience and court time - something that Brina is sure to get in large measure in the coming weeks. In 31 minutes Brina recorded 9 points (3-5, 3-5 FT), 2 rebounds 2 assists, and a blocked shot to 6 turnovers.
Natasha Bogdanova seemed to be troubled by they physical post play, although there is no question she gives her all when on the court. She does not yet have the seasoning to be effective, however, and failed to connect on her 2 shot attempts. Natasha did pull down 2 rebounds and record a steal to 2 turnovers.
Although there was nothing mentioned in the press in way of explanation, Aya Traore did not play with her usual brand of intensity. She missed her only shot attempt, and otherwise did not dent the box score in 7 minutes play.
Carol Duncan deserves some of the credit for keeping McCarville in check. Carol is now the sole back-up for Emily Heikes, and when she is on the court the center position experiences little or no drop off. Carol did not connect on her one shot attempt, but she did pull down a rebound and recorded 2 steals to 1 turnover.
Tye Jackson's shot is still not dropping for her, and it is frustrating to watch her struggle so from the floor. When she was in the game, Tye covered Shannon Schonrock in man to man coverage. She was fast enough to stick with the wiley senior, and Tye should be commended for her excellent defensive effort. Tye ended with a total of 2 points (1-5, 0-2 3 pt.er), 1 rebound, and 4 turnovers.
Ashley Mays was inserted for the final minute of the first half. In that time she committed a turnover and missed her lone shot attempt.
If the first 5 minutes of the game was evidence of the coaching staff's game plan, there could be no question that they knew how to stop the Gophers.
It was the team's execution in the final 35 minutes that is a huge area of concern.
In the 2004-2005 edition of the Boilermakers, Curry has met her largest challenge by far. She has the unenviable task of keeping her charges on an even emotional keel and maintaining their confidence as their on- court execution swings wildly from minute to minute. Up to this point, she has done this by staying mainly positive and taking things a step at a time. She appears to have made the decision that Brina will be the starting point guard, and seemed almost relieved that the uncertainty of counting on Sharika was behind her.
The game was physical in the extreme, and the officials were too inconsistent to alter the style of play to any great degree. One of the weaker crews this year.
The announced crowd was 9110 although far fewer braved the cold and sleet to attend. They cheered loudly in the first half. When it was clear that this was not going to be the Boiler's night, many left early. One hopes that the fans realize that this year's team needs to hear the support and encouragement of the Boiler faithful much more than past year's senior-laden teams.
Things don't get any easier for the Boilermakers as they next travel to South Bend to take on the highly-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame before tackling some of the Big 10's toughest teams. By falling at home the Boilers have all but taken themselves out of the Big 10 race. In the short term, this should be the last of the Boilers' concerns. If Brina Pollack does indeed start against Notre Dame, this will mean that every active player save Hannah Anderson and Carol Duncan will have been on the court at tip off for at least one game. This constant turmoil is taking its toll, as players must continually adapt and adjust. Purdue's most immediate need is to re-learn how to score points and develop an offensive flow. Only after this has been achieved can they spend much time fretting over league standings or national rankings.
Game Ball: Shannon Schonrock