One of the perennial questions that is asked of women’s basketball is “Is there parity?” If the answer is not yet, the next question is “When will it get here?” For most the parity question roughly means when will the top recruits start attending more than a handful of elite programs and when can we expect to see a Final Four without Tennessee and/or UConn?
In addition to the “top down” parity that everyone talks about, however, there is also a “bottom up” variety. This is what occurs when the schools from the mid-major and lower conferences catch up to their power conference sisters. There is no doubt that bottom up parity is arriving quickly. This year’s upsets include Northern Colorado (a recent addition to the D1 ranks) knocking off both Marquette and Illinois. Long Beach State has pasted a loss on Southern California, and St. Joseph’s and Rice did the same to North Carolina State and Texas Tech respectively. Arkansas State has been no slouch when it comes to upsetting opponents higher in the college food chain. The Lady Indians came into Mackey Arena on Tuesday with a 3-1 record including wins over Missouri and Missouri State (formerly Southwest Missouri State). Brian Boyer’s squad would have liked nothing more than to add another power conference notch on their belts. Before tip off the Boilers appeared ripe for the upset – they had looked shaky against both of their opponents in Bermuda, and nobody really knew what sort of team was about to take the floor.
Shortly after Tuesday’s game got under way, however, it was apparent that Boilermaker Special was back on track. The first five minutes gave no indication that a lop-sided win was about to occur. The teams began the game by trading baskets. This effort was aided by the fact that neither club appeared to be particularly interested in playing defense. At the first media time out the score was 13-9 in the Boiler’s favor. Then Cherelle George and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton were subbed in for Sharika Webb and Natasha Bogdanova. The pace of the game and the Boilermaker’s defensive intensity took an immediate jump forward. Over the next 2 and a half minutes the Boilers went on a 17-5 run. Many of baskets were made in transition – something sure to result in high percentage shots. When the team was in the half court, the stronger Boilermakers were able to muscle past their opponents for more lay ups. The result was one of the best twenty minutes ever by the players in Old Gold and Black. They finished the first half with 62 points (second best in Purdue history), having shot with 60% accuracy from the floor. The half time score was 62-25.
Things slowed down a great bit in the second half. The Boiler shooting percentage came down to earth, and the Boilers became increasingly sloppy as the game wore on. Head coach Kristy Curry substituted liberally, allowing every player to see extended action. Although the team’s enthusiasm never waned, their shooting accuracy and defensive pressure took a decided turn for the worse. The Lady Indians, meanwhile, took advantage of Purdue’s defensive lapses to connect on a few more of their shot attempts. The Boilers and Arkansas State played to a 33-33 tie in the second stanza to produce a final score of 95-58 in the home team’s favor.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
It just doesn’t get much better than what the Boilers experienced Tuesday evening. The team shot 49% from the floor, including 40% from behind the arc. The team recorded 26 assists to 37 made baskets – an excellent mark.
The Boilers attempted to employ a swarming defense, and, with the exception of several lapses, they were generally successful in slowing the ball when they attempted to trap or press. In the half court the Old Gold and Black still has difficulty sustaining 30 seconds worth of focus, and often the Lady Indians would be able to eventually find an open player. Defensive execution is an area that must improve before the Boilers take on some tougher teams. Arkansas State committed 23 turnovers or which 14 were credited as Purdue steals.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Boilers had a dismal free throw shooting percentage in the first half, but righted the ship and finished with 15 makes in 24 attempts for a 62% average. Katie Gearlds, Sharika Webb, and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton were perfect from the line.
The Boilers decisively won the battle of the boards, pulling down 46 caroms to Arkansas State's 30. Of those 46, an incredible 23 were on the offensive end. To put the cloud inside this silver lining, this gaudy number was indicative of the large number of missed bunnies. Natasha Bogdanova was particularly effective at snaring loose balls. Using her athleticism and high energy play she pulled down a career-high 13 misses.
The most encouraging statistic from Tuesday's game was the team mark of 26 assists to 10 turnovers. In the first half the team played exceedingly well as a unit, finding open players, dishing the ball for high percentage plays, and looking up the court for fast break opportunities.
Aya Traore bounced back and delivered an excellent outing. It was quickly apparent that no player on the Lady Indians squad could stop her when she attacked the basket, and several times she would penetrate and either make the short jumper herself or dish to a more open teammate. Her strong line reflects her solid all-around performance. She recorded a total of 7 points (3-6, 1-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks to 0 turnovers.
Erin Lawless used her newly-grown muscles to great advantage as she had no trouble establishing position in the post, and, once she got the ball on the low block, finishing her shots. Erin also took advantage of her speed to beat her defenders down the court in transition. Overall, a very good outing as is reflected by her line: 15 points (6-10, 3-6 FT), 4 rebounds, and 3 assists to 0 turnovers.
Natasha Bogdanova is alternating starts with Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton as Curry sees them as equivalent contributors. Natasha has certainly separated herself from the team in one regard - she was dominant on the boards, pulling down a game-high 13 in her 16 minutes of action. "Bogs" is a very active defender and an increasingly proficient passer as well. The only part of her game that suffered was on the offensive end as she only connected on 2 of her 6 field goal attempts and failed to connect on her free throws. In all, the Russian contributed a total of 4 points (2-6, 0-2 FT), 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocked shots to 0 turnovers.
Katie Gearlds had another of her famous heart-to-hearts with Kristy Curry following her lackluster performance in the Bahamas. As was the case during her freshman season, the talk helped her regain her focus and take a more active role in the offense. In the first half she couldn't miss and put up a game-high 17 points. In the second she couldn't hit the ocean from a pier. When she came out of the game for a final time an ice pack was immediately taped to her calf, so perhaps a muscle problem was hampering her later in the game. During Katie's entire time on the court she contributed to the team's offensive flow and defensive efforts. Katie finished with 17 points (5-13, 3-7 3 pt.er, 4-4 FT), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 1 blocked shot to 0 turnovers.
Sharika Webb finds herself in familiar territory as once again there is uncertainty surrounding the point guard position. Sharika was able to put a tough Bahamas trip behind her, however, and played quite well. She connected on some field goal attempts to deliver her first points of the season, and ran the team without going out of control. One can't help but think that the emergence of Cherelle George as a legitimate starter is lighting a fire under Webb. Sharika ended the night with 11 points (3-4, 1-2 3pt.er, 4-4 FT), 3 assists, and a steal to 1 turnover.
During one sequence in the second half, Jodi Howell stepped into a passing lane and neatly intercepted an errant Arkansas State pass. She found herself as the only Boiler on that end of the floor with a Lady Indian defender under the basket. Jodi could have done any number of things - taken the ball out to the wing to wait for her teammates, or tried to juke her defender and "take it to the hole." Instead she did the correct thing - stopping at the elbow of the key and hitting a pull up jumper. This is just one example of how Howell plays beyond her years. Her game is already complete as she contributes every time she's on the court. On Tuesday Jodi accumulated a total of 5 points (2-4, 1-3 3pt.er), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 steals to 1 turnover.
Cherelle George is just spooky fast. She zipped from midcourt to prevent a ball from going out of bounds, and was able to secure the orb before the players right next to it had a chance to react. George can get the rest of the team moving at her pace as she pushes tempo and gets the ball waaay up the court when the opportunity presents. Although she still does not seem 100% comfortable in all situations, her rapid improvement bodes well for the team. Cherelle almost reached double figures with 9 points (4-9, 1-2 3 pter, 0-1 FT) as well as recording 3 assists and 3 steals to 2 turnovers.
Danielle Campbell had more trouble with the officials than the opposing team as she was called for 2 offensive fouls (recorded as 2 turnovers). Learning how to play aggressively in the post without picking up infractions is one of the most difficult things for young players to master, and no doubt Danielle will suffer from more high-whistle outings before she gets it down. In addition to the afore mentioned turnovers, Danielle recorded 4 points (2-5), 3 rebounds, and a steal.
Lauren Mioton played for the final 4 minutes of the contest. In that time she went from a player who looked completely intimidated to one that belonged on the court and was able to help establish an offensive rhythm. She failed to find the basket, but both of her shot attempts were good looks. Lauren also pulled down a rebound and was charged with a turnover.
Kiki Freeman saw 9 minutes of action, and played with great energy during her time on the court. Despite her role player status, Kiki has good shot selection and can be counted on to contribute a few points when she's in the game. She did this Tuesday as she threw in 2 points (1-3), and also pulled down a rebound and recorded a steal to 1 turnover.
On Tuesday Carol Duncan was actually the foul-lee before she was whistled as the foul-er. Her hard nosed play was not well reflected in the box score as she did not attempt a shot, failed to score (0-1 FT), and had an assist to one turnover.
Stephanie Helgeson evidences a world of potential. She pulled down 4 rebounds in only 8 minutes of court time, and establishes position on the low block. In addition to the boards, Stephanie recorded 3 points (1-5, 1-2 FT) and a steal.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was Purdue's stealth player. She had a fantastic game, scoring at will on the offensive end while defending quite skillfully on the other. In addition, she was one of the most consistent Boilers - playing well during every one of her 16 minutes on the court. Lindsay's contributions don't stick out, however, because she is able to do everything within the flow of the game and with the seeming lack of effort that many great players demonstrate. Although she appears quiet on the court, her line shouts All-Big 10. At the end of the night the sophomore had recorded 16 points (7-8, 2-2 FT), 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals to 1 turnover.
Despite being a self-proclaimed practice player, Ashley Mays played for 6 minutes in the second half. The reason why she played not mentioned in the post-game interviews, so it is up to the fan to speculate. Perhaps she was being rewarded for her efforts in practice, perhaps Curry was attempting to send a message to another player, or perhaps Curry was doing everything in her power to prevent the Boilers from running up the score on the overmatched Lady Indians. It's even possible that somebody noted that the "Subway Sub of the Game" should get in at least one time during the contest. Whatever the reason, Ashley played her signature tight defense, pulled down 2 rebounds and scored 2 points on 1-1 shooting.
The contest on Tuesday was absolutely perfect from a coach's perspective. Overall the team played well and the outcome was not in doubt after the first 10 minutes. This enabled the coaches to substitute liberally, giving bench players experience under fire while saving the legs of the starters. Because Curry didn't need to worry about keeping players upbeat and full of confidence, she could get in their grill when they did not perform according to her expectations. In the second half she did just that- taking several time outs following defensive slip-ups to bring attention to the lapses.
As is so often the case with games between 2 mis-matched opponents, the players were not particularly physical and thus there was very little for the officials to call. A total of 29 infractions were whistled, and by and large the officials did a credible job.
The group of fans next to the band that holds up signs spelled out "WE BELIEVE" when the players took the court before tip-off. That sentiment reflects the uncertainty shared by the 6,639 in attendance. Before tip-off it wasn't know if we would see the much-improved squad that the coaches were raving about in the pre-season or the same old mistake-prone team that fell to Houston and Illinois last year. When the players removed all doubt in the first half it was appropriate that the group held up "BOILERS RULE" twenty minutes and 62 points later.
The primary emotion associated with Tuesday's win was relief. Prior to the contest nobody knew what this year's team was capable of delivering. It is now apparent that the Boilers can be a very good team with realistic hopes of competing well in the Big 10 and post-season tournaments. What is more, the amount of youth and inexperience on the team suggests that the Boilers will only improve over the course of the season.
The Boilers will get little time to enjoy the victory. Arkansas State was the first game of a 4 game in 8 day stretch. They will take on Western Michigan and DePaul on the road before returning to Mackey to take on Notre Dame next Wednesday.
Game Ball: They share a starting position so why not game balls?
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Natasha Bogdanova