How ironic that on Purdue’s last home game of the season, a time that is traditionally reserved to honor senior players, it was the freshmen that stole the show. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton has had a great freshman season. She plays a complete game; defending and passing with a maturity beyond her years as well as being a potent scorer. She’s managed to earn and then hold onto a spot in the starting line-up for a coach who has no trouble letting star players wait their turn and pay their dues. Lindsay’s “up side” is enormous and she is sure to go down as one of Purdue’s better all-around players. Her efforts have been recognized outside West Lafayette, and she was named to the Big 10 All-Freshman by both the media and the coaches. I mention this up front so that it is clear that I am taking nothing away from her when I state that you have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Jolene Anderson’s story. The Wisconsin freshman hails from the burg of Port Wing, Wisconsin, close to Lake Superior. She learned to shoot in a converted dairy barn, attended a high school with a total enrollement of less than 100, and played against teams with an average enrollment of around 120. To top it off, even her high school coach predicted she’s have a difficult time adjusting to the bustling metropolis that is Madison, WI. Because of her level of competition in high school, Jolene didn’t get much credit for being Wisconsin’s all time leading scorer, and it would be fair to say that nobody expected very much from her as a freshman. Even the Badger Faithful predicted that Indianapolis’ Janese Banks would be this year’s best freshman to wear white and red. But lighting can strike in Port Wing, just as it can in Beech Grove, Naperville, or West Lebanon. Anderson’s ability to score gave her the Big 10 freshman-of-the-year award, but only one scoring option does not translate into many wins in the Big 10. For that reason, the Boiler faithful could enjoy the play of both squad’s precocious freshmen without having to sweat too much over the final outcome of the game.
The Boilers began the game by showing off their improved defensive prowess and focus. They held Wisconsin scoreless for the first 3 minutes by playing a very tight man to man defense. Offensively, Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Erin Lawless provided the firepower, but the entire team played as a unit and took care of the ball. Perhaps the play that best illustrated the Boiler's resolve occurred at the 16:59 mark. Erin was fouled "in the act" and awarded 2 free throws. When she missed the second, Lindsay grabbed the rebound and put it back for a backwards three point play. At the first media timeout the score was 10-4 in the Old Gold and Black's favor. Then the Boilers lost their way; they suffered from a string of empty offensive possessions and allowed their defensive intensity to lag as well. Wisconsin took advantage of the lapse and went on a 10-1 run to go ahead 11-14 with a little less than 11 minutes left in the half. This got the Boiler's attention, and they quickly regained the lead. An Anderson three tied the game up at the 7:48 mark 17 all. Purdue scored the next 5 points, however, and never trailed again. They went into the locker room ahead by 7, 31-24.
The second half played out very much like the first. Purdue would go on runs and push the lead out to double figures. Then the Badgers would hit some shots and close the gap again. The largest lead of the period was 15 at 49-34 with 9:47 remaining. Then Wisconsin found a second scorer in Stephanie Rich and they methodically closed the gap. With 2:42 remaining, the lead had dwindled to 4, 58-54. It was then that senior Emily Heikes scored on a nifty out of bounds play to give the Boilers a bit of breathing room. Aya Traore then sealed the deal by stepping into the lane and intercepting a perimeter pass and then taking it down for the lay-up and one. The Boilers were able to hit their free throws down the stretch to give the game's final margin - 69-59.
Comments on specific aspects of the game:
The Boiler players appeared to be on the same page on Sunday, with very little standing around on offensive sets. What was most encouraging, however, was that the Boiler's shooting percentage increased as the game wore on. Overall they hit 41% of their attempts from the field including 33% from behind the arc.
It's no secret that the key to stopping Wisconsin is stopping Jolene Anderson. The Boilers were able to do a decent job in this regard. They were most effective in a man to man defense in which they switched on their screens. Purdue is an excellent position as a team to switch off as their perimeter players are quite tall and their post players are very athletic. The Badgers committed 23 turnovers of which 14 were credited as Purdue steals.
For the third game in a row, Purdue won the rebounding battle, pulling down 38 boards to 35 for their opponents. Emily Heikes, who doesn't collect rebounds so much as rip them down, led the way with a game-high 10 boards.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Boilers shot a very respectable 79% from the charity stripe. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, Katie Gearlds, and Aya Traore were all perfect from the line. Aya hit hers with 43 seconds to go, and deserves mention for hitting clutch free throws throughout the season.
The Boilers committed 19 turnovers on the afternoon. While this number is better than many earlier outings, it is still too many. Wisconsin's runs could be directly correlated with the times when Purdue got sloppy with the ball. The team's offensive flow and ability to feed the post without telegraphing passes for easy interceptions is much improved, however.
It was very fitting that on senior day Emily Heikes played the kind of game that has won the hearts of the Mackey faithful for four years. She spent her time on the court banging down low and out hustling everyone on the court. Emily is an amazing success story. She was not expected to be more than a role player, but through hard work she's learned how to use every bit of her natural ability and leaves Purdue as a 2 year starter. Her grit and determination will be missed next year. On Sunday Emily scored 4 points (2-5), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton had one of her poorer outings against Ohio State on Thursday. She responded as great players do - by putting together a much better game when next given the opportunity. Coincidentally, her play served notice that Anderson wasn't the only high impact freshman in the Big 10 this year. Lindsay looked for her shot early and often, and her confidence grew as she continued to put up the “J’s”. Lindsay is much more than a scorer, however. She excels defensively as well, and on Sunday she was particularly active in the half court. Having a double figure scoring threat takes the pressure off the rest of the Boilers, as it makes them a team that forces others to make difficult decisions as to who to guard. For that reason, Lindsay’s continued good play is a key for the team if they are to pull out some tournament wins. In an excellent outing, Lindsay scored a career-high 22 points (10-15, 1-1 3 pt.er, 1-1 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, a blocked shot, and a career-high 6 steals to 3 turnovers.
Erin Lawless was disqualified with over 5 minutes remaining in the game. While it is true that some of her infractions were "tough fouls" (as in nobody but the official saw an infraction), her 5th was committed on the perimeter in full view of the officiating crew. Erin is too valuable to the team to be sitting on the bench at crunch time, and she needs to learn when to err on the side of caution when on the defensive end. There was a scary moment in the first half when Erin went down in a heap and came up limping badly. She was able to go in the second half, however, and remained effective when she was on the floor. After the game it was revealed that she aggravated an ankle sprain, but she expects to be able to play in the next game. On the afternoon Erin recorded a total of 12 points (3-10, 0-1 3 pter, 6-8 FT), 6 rebounds, an assist and a turnover.
Maybe Katie Gearlds' leg, foot, back, thumb, and /or side feel better, or maybe she’s better able to play through the pain, or maybe she's just out of a shooting slump. For whatever reason, Gearlds has been able to string together a series of high scoring games and has been much more effective overall. The streak continued against the Badgers. Katie shooting percentage (50%) and three point shooting are even starting to recover to earlier levels. For a player know primarily for her scoring, Katie does an admirable job filling the box score in other categories as well. Such was the case Sunday when she recorded 19 points (7-14, 3-5 3pter, 2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block to 2 turnovers.
Sharika Webb went hard to the rim on several occasions. She never did manage to get a shot to drop, but she’s often rewarded for her efforts with free throws. As was the case against Ohio State, Webby scored all her points from the line. Webb’s line is misleading as she recorded more turnovers than in some earlier games, but appeared to be in more control and did not try to force too much. Sharika ended the afternoon with 6 points (0-7, 0-4 3 pt.er, 6-8 FT), one rebound, block, assist, and steal apiece, and 3 turnovers.
Natasha Bogdanova was called for traveling on two straight possessions during her first appearance on the court, and was promptly invited to return to the bench. When Natasha next appeared she remained in control although she still tried to force the ball to the hoop despite her awkward position and defensive pressure. In one instance, the crowd actually applauded her decisions to pass the ball rather than to attempt a poorly-considered penetration move. Although she’s going through her share of growing pains now, Natasha has evidenced great potential and should mature into one of the team’s better players. Natasha recorded 3 points (0-2, 3-4 FT), 3 rebounds, and a turnover.
Aya Traore was quite for most of the game. She defended well throughout, but did not appear to be looking for her points. She stepped up when most needed, however, and her steal and three point play at the end of the game was the coffin nail for the Boilers. Aya still tends to force things which can lead to turnovers, but her value as a defensive player and rebounder keep her on the court. Aya ended up with 3 points (1-3, 1-1), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.
Brina Pollack played quite well in her short time on the floor. She’s good at getting up in the opposing perimeter players’ grills and is honing her defensive prowess. Brina has a good handle, and was able to initiate the offense despite getting a fair amount of pressure from the Badger players. In all, Brina had no points, but did pull down a rebound and had 2 steals and 2 assists to 2 turnovers.
Hannah Anderson played for the final 30 seconds. It was a fitting tribute to the years of hard work she’s put into the program. Although it did not look like she touched the ball, she somehow ended up with a turnover in the official box score.
Carol Duncan and Ashley Mays did not play.
On Sunday the Boilers transitioned smoothly through a sequence of offensive and defensive looks. If the goal was to confuse the young Badger guards and force turnovers, the plan must be considered a success. Curry has shortened her bench as tournament play approaches. This seems to have helped with offensive flow and in decreasing turnovers. Although the team may be a bit too inconsistent right now to say that they are peaking, the team is playing the best basketball of the season. They’ve chosen the right time to do it.
Wisconsin was called for many more fouls than Purdue in the first half. This was reflected in the fact that the Badgers attempted 2 free throws to the Boiler’s 11. This sort of imbalance is never a good thing, as too often the officials will take pains to even things out later. Such was the case Sunday as the whistles went wild in the second stanza. Wisconsin was sent to the line 20 times in final 20 minutes. When all was said and done, Purdue attempts 24 free throws to Wisconsin’s 22. No doubt the officials felt proud of the way they called a balanced game. To the observer in the stands, however, it appeared to be wildly uneven, with the officials calling things the Boilers way at first, and then over correcting to allow the Badgers to catch up.
Most of the announced crowd of 9054 stayed after the game to honor Emily and Hannah. The seniors were recognized by their teammates and coaches to thunderous applause. The crowd was into the game from the start, and there was an excellent atmosphere throughout.
Purdue finished its regular season with an overall record of 16-11 including a 9-7 mark in the conference. This should be good enough to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney. Things for the committee to consider on the plus side is the winning record in the conference, the fact the Boilers have less than 13 losses, no really bad losses, and some very good wins over Top 25 opponents. To cement a berth Purdue will need to win one or more games in the Big 10 tournament. Their first opponent is Minnesota, a team that has beaten the Boilers twice already this year. The Old Gold and Black is wishing that every bit of the old adage “it’s very hard to beat a team three times in a season” is true as they hope to turn their fortunes around in Indianapolis.
Game Ball: Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton
Honorary 4 Year balls: Emily Heikes and Hannah Anderson. Thanks for everything you gave to the Boilers You will be missed.