Purdue 85 – Butler 59
George Washington 49 – Purdue 47
Purdue 56 – South Carolina 48
The Purdue Boilermakers have played 3 games into their young season – barely time to get the uniforms dirty. Their record is 2-1 with wins against Butler and South Carolina, one of the SEC’s weaker sisters. Sandwiched between these wins, the Boilers managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a bumbling outing against a tough but beat-ible George Washington team.
Taken together, it is clear that there are many facets of the game which are much improved this year compared to last. Some of the problems that plagued last season’s team have come back to haunt this year’s group, however. Luckily, this year Head Coach Kristy Curry has more options at her disposal to exorcise these bad spirits. It was evident from how the team bounced back against South Carolina that the head coach is not going to be shy about making the changes she deems important sooner rather than later.
Here are some key issues that have come to light so far this young season.
1) More than any other player, a point guard’s true contribution to her team can not be measured from the stat. sheet. A point guard is her team’s metronome. It is her job to keep the team at the same speed and playing in synch. When it works well, the entire team has a coherent offensive flow, and many times they are said to be in rhythm. An effective point guard can act as her team’s metronome without scoring a point or even directly dishing out an assist. Without the point guard setting the tone in this manner, the team will look stilted and every possession will become an effort. Such was the case against George Washington, when radio announcer Tim Newton described the Boilers as “stilted,” “stagnant,” and “bogged down” on numerous occasions. Sharika Webb, it would appear, can not keep a beat.
In previous years it became a joke when, after many of the games in which Shereka Wright was the high scorer and Beth Jones or Katie Gearlds led the team in assists, Curry would begin her post-game quotes by saying that it all started with Erika Valek. Time has shown that, as is usually the case, Curry was absolutely right. When the Boilers played George Washington one could get a taste of what a team looks like when individuals on the team are putting up points, rebounding, and attempting to run an offense without the benefit of a “coach on the floor.” The two words that appear to best describe the action are “ugly” and “frustrating.” Sharika Webb reverted back to her early 2004 form, dishing out just 2 assists to 4 turnovers in 33 minutes. What is more, the team struggled along with her, throwing up rushed and poorly considered shots that missed their mark more often than not.
The dismal backcourt outing was not lost on the coaching staff. They have responded by putting Cherelle George’s development on fast forward. Against the Gamecocks George ran the show for 24 minutes compared to Webb’s 17. She made the most of her time on the court, particularly on the defensive end as she recorded 10 steals. Cherelle’s minutes can be expected to grow if she continues to play at a high level. Sharika seems to play her best when she is being directly challenged; thus Cherelle’s emergence should help her maintain focus as well.
2) Kristy Curry has done everything in her power to convince Katie Gearlds that she is the square peg named go-to player and leading scorer. Katie’s every action, meanwhile, indicates that she’s more comfortable playing as a round hole spark-off-the-bench, situational shooter. For the team to do well, Katie will need to embrace the role that Curry has assigned. It does not appear to come naturally for Katie to play diva instead of dishing off; she will need to continue to work on taking shots when she can. Saturday’s 13 shot-attempt performance (which netted her a game-high 18 points) is an early indication that Katie is doing her best to follow the coach’s orders.
3) To this point, the only consistent thing about the Boilers has been their inconsistency. Aya Traore played well against Butler, had a huge game against GW, but then stubed her toe badly against South Carolina. Natasha looked to be a world-beater against weaker squads, but had trouble sustaining that level against a better opponent. It is a bonus if a freshman can deliver a consistent effort day in and day out, but every team member from the sophomores on up needs to find a way to make a positive impact every time they hit the court. Curry has been extremely conservative with her starting line-ups over the years, but perhaps this year she would be better served to award starting positions to the players who deliver on the court.
4) When it comes to rebounding and defense – it is time for the Boilers to play smarter, not harder. The team is putting out the effort. Many times, however, it appears as if the one muscle they aren’t exercising is the one between their ears. The end result all too often is a silly foul or a defensive lapse. Erin Lawless needs to play as if she has 4 fouls before she picks up one. She is too crucial to the team to spend most of her time on the bench. Carol Duncan needs to refrain from clearing out opposing players every time she goes up for a rebound. The ref.s all know she does it, and they call her for it. The end result is she gets an early return to the bench (or Curry can’t dare to use her at all) and the other team gets in the bonus that much more quickly. Overall, on the defensive end players need to work on their court awareness – keeping track of their player and ball location at all times.
5) It appears as if Jodi Howell and Danielle Campbell will be difference makers this year. Danielle’s box outs are already the best on the team, and her height gives her a big advantage in the post. Danielle will be schooled a time or two by more experienced post players, and Jodi will have her share of off outings as well. Overall, however, both have demonstrated an understanding of the game and level of athleticism which will reap benefits most of the time.
Nobody likes to lose. But the Boiler’s early-season loss has provided the team with some very valuable insight into what the team is doing well and what must be fixed. They get their next opportunity to build on the positives and work out the kinks on Tuesday when they take on a tough Arkansas State squad.