One of my favorite sports saying goes: “Moral victories are for losers.” Coach Curry and the rest of the Purdue women’s basketball team certainly live by that philosophy. There was every reason to be encouraged by much of what was seen on Thursday night when the Boilermakers took on the Ohio State Buckeyes in Mackey Arena. But, because they could not secure a W, the team would have none of it. This was a game they were in a position to win, one that they expected to win, and the positives meant nothing when compared to the lapses that held the Boilers back..
Yes, any loss is a disappointment. But one couldn’t help but note that, for the first time all season, Purdue was able to hang within 10 points of a highly-ranked team. The Boilers were able to keep it close by forcing more turnovers than they committed, pulling down more rebounds, and outscoring the Buckeyes in both second chance points and points off the bench. From this perspective, the defeat on Thursday represented a “good loss.” A team like Ohio State does not allow for any margin for error, however, and Purdue’s poor shooting and key defensive lapses ultimately did them in.
The pattern of the game was set from the opening tip. The Buckeyes would establish a comfortable lead, and then the Boilers would reel them back in. At no point, however, did Purdue tie the score of go ahead. At the beginning of the game, Erin Lawless was Purdue’s sole effective scorer. With ten and a half minutes elapsed, the score was 11-12, and Lawless had made 9 of the Boilers 11. Whenever the Buckeyes got in trouble, they’d find Jessica Davenport on the low block for a score. The center in scarlet and grey is virtually unstoppable, and came through whenever she was called upon. The Buckeyes were able to stretch the lead out in the second part of the first half, aided by the absence of Erin Lawless who was on the bench with her second foul. Without Erin in the game the Old Gold and Black lost most of their offensive punch. They went into the locker room down by 10, 19-29.
After the game, Curry revealed that she had coached her fanny off at the intermission. Whatever was said worked, as the Boilers came out of the locker room with increased intensity and resolve. Katie Gearlds got hot, scoring the home team’s first 8 points. The Boilers also upped their defensive intensity and generated some stops. With 4 minutes elapsed the Boilers had cut the deficit to 5 points. OSU isn’t ranked the 4th best team in the country for nothing however, and they got the ball back to their bread and butter players. The lead was quickly stretched back up, and the Bucks were up 12 with 6:26 left to go. Then Sharika Webb stepped things up and began to aggressively attack the basket. She failed to score from the field, but was given 8 opportunities at the free throw line during the final 5 minutes and hit every one. With 1:16 left Purdue had cut the deficit to 4 points, 49-53. In the final minute, however, Purdue’s inexperience began to show. They had a difficult time getting a shot, and wasted too many precious seconds before getting into their offensive sets. The Boilers were forced to foul to regain possession in the final half minute, and the Buckeyes hit their shots to reach the final margin, 57-51.
Comments of Specific Aspects of the Game
As other facets of the game improve for the Boilers, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Purdue’s poor shooting is what is primarily responsible for holding the team back. This was the case on Sunday, when the Boilers connected on only 17 of 55 attempts for 31%. Included in this dismal total is a14% effort from behind the three point arc. What was most frustrating on Thursday was the large number of lay-ups and wide open looks that didn’t connect.
The Buckeyes have the best shooting percentage in the Big 10, and much of that credit goes to their sophomore center Jessica Davenport. She rarely misses when she’s on the low block. Sunday was no exception, as the Boilers could not prevent the visitors from hitting 53% from the field. There isn’t much one can do to prevent Davenport from getting her points, but it was the 14 from Brandi Hoskins that were deemed preventable. On the plus side, the Boilers forced 21 turnovers, 11 of which were credited as Purdue steals.
The Boilers pulled down 31 boards to 29 by the Buckeyes. It was a team effort as every player went hard to the boards, and all but Pollack pulled down at least 1 carom. Erin Lawless led the way with 7 rebounds.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Boiler’s free throw shooting was one of the bright spots of the evening. They made 16 of their 20 attempts from the charity stripe for 80%. Erin Lawless, Katie Gearlds, and Sharika Webb were perfect from the line.
The Boilers recorded 15 assists to 16 turnovers, a very respectable figure. Although there are still more unforced turnovers than anybody could like, the passing and control is light years better than what was seen at the start of the year. The ball movement offensively is quite good, and the Boiler’s failure to score is more an issue of failing to knock down good looks than not being able to generate them.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton had the type of outing that freshmen typically have against All-American caliber upperclassmen. She was schooled on the defensive end by Brandi Hoskins as she’d bite on the sophomore’s hesitation moves and cuts. Lindsay is a good enough player to be a positive force on the court on most possessions, however. Lindsay ended up with a total of 2 points (1-6), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 steals to 3 turnovers.
At the start of the game, Erin Lawless was the only Boiler player who could find the bucket. She was responsible for 9 of the Boiler’s first 11 points. Unfortunately, Erin also picked up 2 quick fouls and had to sit for the remainder of the half. When she was on the floor, Erin played extremely well. In all, Erin had a 13 points (6-11, 1-1 FT), 7 rebounds, and a steal to 3 turnovers.
Emily Heike’s, like Erin, had to sit for most of the first half after picking up 2 quick infractions. Emily’s strength allows her to hold her own against much taller players, but Davenport was able to have her way. Emily had several good looks, although she was only able to connect on 2 of her 5 attempts. In addition to her 4 points, Emily recorded 3 rebounds, an assist and 3 steals to 2 turnovers.
Katie Gearlds is a living demonstration of the adage that a shooter is only one make away from ending a slump. After only making one field goal fro 2 points in the first half, Katie heated up and scored 14 in the second. Katie’s scoring success is mainly due to her improving ability to come off screens. Katie did more than score on Thursday, however, and she had one of her most complete games of the year. One of the most encouraging things to watch was the fact that Katie was quite vocal and appears to be growing into a leader’s role. Katie ended the game with a team-high 16 points (6-16, 1-5 3 pt.er, 3-3 FT), 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and a blocked shot. Perhaps the best number on Katie’s line was the 0 in the turnover column.
Sharika Webb was promoted back into the starting line-up after several solid outings. Curry’s confidence in the junior was rewarded as Sharika again played with a great deal of effort and was able to make things happen for her team. Sharika was able to make several key open court steals, and her aggressive play as the game wound down was the largest factor in keeping the Boilers within striking distance. Webb’s largest problem through the year has been consistency, so it was particularly nice to see her play well against OSU’s swarming defenders. Webb finished the game with a total of 8 points (0-4, 8-8 FT), 1 rebound, 4 assists, and 4 steals to 1 turnover.
Natasha Bogdanova repeatedly tried to score by going right at Davenport, and in no instance was she successful. One appreciates her scorer’s mentality, however, and no doubt her efficiency will increase as she gains experience. Natasha brings a huge amount of energy off the bench, and when she is in the game the good things generally happen. These are even starting to out number the not so hot things that can occur. Once Natasha has mastered the NCAA’s definition of traveling, she will become much more valuable to the team. On the afternoon Natasha scored 3 points (1-7, 1-2 FT), 3 rebounds, and a block to 4 turnovers.
Aya Traore has improved her ball handling and decision making markedly. Her long arms and quickness make her a good perimeter defender, although she still needs to improve her positioning. Like Natasha, Aya brings a great deal of energy to the court and is willing to mix it up under the basket with anyone. Aya finished the game with a total of 4 points (1-5, 0-1 3 pt.er, 2-4 FT), 4 rebounds, and 2 turnovers.
Brina Pollack is showing signs of developing into a feisty Debbie Black-esque defender. She also had a very nice penetration and kick-out assist during her 8 minutes on the court. Brina did not score on her lone attempt, but she did pull down a rebound and dish out 2 assists without committing a turnover.
Carol Duncan was put into the game in the first half and promptly threw the ball out of bounds. When the substitution horn sounded she went to the bench without even looking to confirm that she was the person who was being yanked. Carol didn’t stay on the court much longer during her second appearance, bust she did manage to pull down a rebound and dish out an assist.
Ashley Mays was inserted briefly near the end of the game, but failed to dent the box score. Hannah Anderson did not play.
Kristy Curry was interviewed before the game for the Fox Sports Chicago half time show. She claimed that she’s enjoyed coaching this year as much as any other. It’s not likely she would have said the same after the game. In the post game interview she was absolutely steamed. Most of her ire was directed at Lawless and Heikes for picking up their early fouls. While she could have put either in later in the first half, both players have earned enough disqualifications this year to make it understandable why she might have been reluctant to make that move. The Boilers switched defenses, particularly picking and choosing when to spring traps and presses, extremely well. The coaching staff prepared the team for everything the Buckeyes were going to do.
The officials have certainly gotten the memo informing them that Davenport is a star player, as she was not called for many of the instances she went into Purdue players or used her elbows to clear out space. The game was called in a very particular manner. Ohio State had many more fouls whistled than did Purdue. The Boilers, however, suffered from what appeared to be the lion’s share of odd calls that changed possession such as traveling and who touched the ball before it went out of bounds. Overall, this was not a particularly well officiated game.
The announced crowd was 8225, and they got very good lung exercise screaming at the officials. The crowd also spent much of their energy cheering on the Boilers, and the atmosphere was excellent.
With the loss, the Boilers drop to 8-7 in the conference and 15-11 overall. They are locked into the 5 place seed in the Big 10 Tournament, and remain on the NCAA bubble. A win against Wisconsin is a must, and a victory or two in the Big 10 tournament would put the Boilers on firmer NCAA footing.
Although they could not manage a win on Thursday, the Boilers demonstrated an overall level of play which makes the prospect of a win or two or three in the Big Ten Tournament a real possibility and not merely a pipedream. The final piece of the puzzle is shooting percentage- as soon as the Boilers start making their shots they’ll become very difficult for any team to defeat.
Game Ball: Sharika Webb