The outcome of Wednesday’s clash between the #24 Purdue Boilermakers and the #10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish may have been an upset on paper, but to those who were paying attention it was hardly a surprise. For starters, this year’s edition of the Old Gold and Black is a pretty darn good team. Not a Final Four contender perhaps, but good enough to hang with just about anyone –highly ranked or not- on Keady court. Purdue’s two losses were against quality teams, while they have won convincingly against lesser squads. It was easy to predict that the Boilers would learn from their earlier mistakes, play hard, and compete well in Mackey.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame entered the game highly ranked because they were undefeated. Their 6 prior victims hardly represent a murder’s row, however. Western Michigan, a team the Boilers handled with ease in Kalamazoo, only fell short by three points when the Irish came to town. Notre Dame’s other victories came against Big 10 bottom-dwellers Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin, as well as Southern California and Iona. The Irish had yet to face a team of Purdue’s caliber, and thus might be less than prepared to deal with the Boiler’s pressure. Notre Dame had never won in Mackey arena, suggesting that they do not find West Lafayette an easy place to play. To top it off, head coach Muffett McGraw was sidelined from the sideline by illness, leaving some pretty large pumps for top assistant Coquese Washington to step into. In short, all indicators pointed to a win for the home team.
It doesn’t take a Knight-esque basketball genius to figure out that the key to stopping the Irish is to shut down their all-everything point guard Megan Duffy. Megan was pressured all 40 minutes she was on the court, and she could never get herself or her team in rhythm because of this. The Boilers played with a new-found defensive intensity from the opening tip. When the game started, Aya Traore and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton took advantage of their slower and shorter opponents by scoring easy baskets. Primarily behind those two players, Purdue was able to stretch a 6-6 tie at the 15:46 mark to a 22-12 advantage with 7:24 remaining in the first stanza. Purdue was scoring easily – off of transition and in the half court. Several Gearlds' three point baskets toward the end of the half stretched the Boiler advantage, and the teams went into the locker room at half time with a 17 point differential – 39-22.
Notre Dame made two changes when it began the second half. They ramped up their defensive efforts- adding more ball pressure and the occasional full court press- and they got the ball inside on offense. Meanwhile, Purdue began missing its open shots and free throws. As a result, the Irish slowly ate into the lead. There was no let up the Boiler defensive intensity, however, and key baskets or free throws prevented the Domers from making a run. Instead, the visitors inched ever closer as the minutes ticked down. To the crowd’s increasing consternation, the Boilers lead fell to single digits late in the game, 61-52. Two Wisdom-Hylton free throws quickly put the gap back over double digits. With 90 seconds left the Boilers put the ball in Gearlds’ hands and dared the Irish to foul her. They only chose to one time, and appeared to concede the game in the final minute. The final score was 65-54. Ironically, this was the exact score of the Purdue-DePaul game.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The key word for the 2005-2006 team is balance. The Boilers have a lot of weapons offensively, and it is no longer possible to shut the team down when one or two players have a bad day. The Old Gold and Black moved the ball quite well against the zone, executing skip passes like old pro.s When guarded in man to man, Traore becomes the number one offensive option as she can take virtually any defender “to the hole” when they attempt to guard her one on one. Overall the team shot 40% for the game, including 25% from behind the arc.
Purdue’s primary defensive goal was to slow down Megan Duffey. The senior’s 12 points on 4-11 shooting and 2 assists to 5 turnovers indicate the Boiler’s level of success. Purdue achieved its goal by keeping a body on Megan at all times. Usually it was Sharika Webb or Cherelle George, but Kiki Freeman, Jodi Howell, and Aya Traore also took their turns. The Boilers played in a man to man defense for most of the night, and were particularly good at sticking with cutters when Notre Dame attempted to run its triangle offense. This tactic that was extremely effective as evidenced from the Irish’s 36% shooting percentage including 14% from behind the three point line.
One would never guess that rebounding had been a sore spot for the Boilers or that Erin Lawless, in particular, had been singled out for her poor board work. On Wednesday the entire team went aggressively to the boards, pulling down 47 misses to the Irish’s 34. Erin led the way with a game-high 12 caroms.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Boilers went 15-20 from the line for 75%. Katie Gearlds, Natasha Bogdanova, and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton were all perfect from the stripe.
Purdue played an excellent first half – the team got the ball to the open players, made good decisions, and took care of the rock. They finished the first stanza shooting 48% from the field. In the second half the team appeared to be trying to milk the shot clock on many possessions, content to pass the ball around the perimeter until 10 seconds were left. This did not prove to be enough time, as in most instances the end results were hurried shots which barely grazed iron. The team did do an excellent job of mixing up tempo and were able to burn the Irish a time or two on quick transition plays off of made baskets. Overall the team recorded 14 assists to 18 turnovers.
Many teams have a player or two whose outside shooting makes them a zone buster. Aya Traore is the Boiler's man to man buster. When she is guarded straight up, Purdue's offense it to clear out and put the ball in Aya's hands. This was the case on Wednesday as the senior did much of her damage early before the Irish were forced to adjust their defensive schemes. Traore had a very good game overall with a total of 11 points (5-8, 1-2 3 pt.er) 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block to 3 turnovers.
After Purdue's earlier losses, Curry made a point that poor rebounding was one of the team's larger problems. Erin Lawless has risen to this challenge and put a concerted effort towards corralling loose balls. Her efforts are reflected in her line as she pulled down 12 rebounds on her way to a double double. Erin padded her O-board stat.s a bit on several occasions as she'd grab her own miss once or twice before finally connecting or drawing a foul. Notre Dame is an extremely physical team under the basket, and Erin was generally able to hold her own down low. Erin finished the night with 11 points (3-10, 0-1 3 pt.er, 5-7 FT), 12 rebounds, an assist, and 2 steals to 5 turnovers.
Katie Gearlds was on the court for 37 minutes - a tribute to Curry's confidence in her as a playmaker, defender, and offensive threat. Katie had a hard time getting on track offensively, but was able to add 13 points once her triples started falling. This contest appears to be representative of the type of game Katie prefers playing - one in which she can work as one of the team rather than being the "go to." In all, Katie recorded 13 points (4-13, 3-9 3 pt.er, 2-2 FT), 3 rebounds 2 assists and 2 blocks to 0 turnovers.
After a week of uncertainty at the center position, it was Natasha Bogdanova that earned the starting nod. Presumably this indicates that the Russian transplant was most consistent in last week's practices. Natasha's largest potential for contributions does not appear to be on the offensive end of the court. Rather, she is emerging as one whose main strengths are as an active defender and a fierce rebounder. In eleven minutes "Bogs" scored 2 points (0-2, 2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, a steal and a turnover.
Sharika Webb had one of her better games on the year. She still had some "Webb unforced turnover moments", primarily when she attempted to force passes that weren't there, but overall she handled the ball quite well. Sharika took open shots when they were available, but primarily looked to set up teammates and keep the Boilermakers on track. Webby finished with 2 points (1-6, 0-3 3 pt.er), 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals, to 4 turnovers.
Foul trouble limited Cherelle George to limited playing time. She succeeded in making life miserable for Notre Dame guards during the entire 11 minutes she was on the court. George’s energy and speed force opponents to adapt to her presence, pushing them out of their comfort zone. Cherelle had 2 points (1-3, 0-2 FT), 1 rebound, and 2 extremely entertaining steals for break away lay-up attempts.
Jodi Howell did not do much to dent the box score in her time on the court, but she’s so solid in every aspect of her game she is able to contribute. Jodi’s best sequence may have been when she took her turn defending Megan Duffy. Like a prize cutting horse keeping a steer separated from the herd, Jodi refused to be thrown off by the senior’s stab steps and fakes and kept her contained and frustrated. Jodi did not score in 2 attempts, but did pull down a rebound.
The best word to describe Danielle Campbell is “wow.” When she first entered the game the experienced Notre Dame posts went right at her. Danielle was able to hold her ground and prevent a basket without fouling. On the other end of the court, Danielle went right back at them and was able to finish and one. Campbell’s production per minute is remarkable, and Curry faces the good “problem” of finding her more time on the court. In a mere 8 minutes playing time, Danielle scored 8 points (3-5, 2-3 FT), 6 rebounds, an assist and 3 blocked shots to 2 turnovers.
Kiki Freeman saw a little time in the first half in order to mix the defenses up against Notre Dame. She stuck to Duffy like glue, and recorded an assist in her 3 minute stint.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton redeemed herself after a luke-warm appearance at DePaul. One hopes part of her slow start was an effect of pre-season back spasms, and that she’ll continue to play at her Notre Dame level for the remainder of the year. Lindsay is money from inside the arc, and she scored easily both facing the basket and from posting up on the low block. Lindsay also did her part on the defensive end, and her “not-in-my-house” block from behind of a seemingly wide-open D’Amico jumper brought the crowd to its feet. When the game was over, Lindsay had recorded a game-high 14 points (5-7, 4-4 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks to 3 turnovers.
When the Notre Dame posts got frustrated and a bit too physical in the second half, Curry sent in “the enforcer”– a.k.a. Carol Duncan. Carol brought an immediate mental toughness and resolve to the court, and her determination renewed the wavering Boilers. Duncan pulled down 3 rebounds, two of which occurred when she went flying into a group of Irish players and wrestled the ball away from them all. She doesn’t look to score, but when Gearlds found her alone under the basket she canned the bunny without a moment’s hesitation. Carol’s best play of the night, however, was a bone-rattling pick set on the unaware Lindsay Schrader in the open court. The stats resulting from her 7 minutes of play (2 points, 3 rebounds, and an assist) do not do justice to the boost she was able to provide her team.
Lauren Mioton, Stephanie Helgeson, and Ashley Mays did not play.
Perhaps the coach most responsible for the Boiler’s success Wednesday night was Lisa Bluder. In 2001, Bluder’s Iowa squad used the triangle offense to absolutely embarrass the Boilers in both in Iowa City and the Big 10 Championship Game. Curry learned from that experience, and, if she can do nothing else, she can teach triangle defense to her teams. A well-defended triangle offense is a pretty pathetic sight. It usually results in a post player stranded up at the top of the key, looking to something – anything- to get rid of the ball. Between defending Notre Dame’s offensive schemes and harassing Duffy, the coaching staff had the team extremely well prepared for the Irish.
Good officiating must be a science, because it certainly is not an art. At least, not an Art Bomengen. His random calls quickly earned the wrath of the coaches and the crowd.
The announced crowd of 7213 was extremely loud and rowdy in the first half. They quieted a down a bit in the second when Purdue began to falter, but overall provided an excellent home court advantage.
It must be noted that the promotions department has come to life; a large banner advertising Purdue’s NCAA tournament games is now hanging in front of the band, and the announcer even mentioned when the tournament games would take place and urged fans to purchase tickets.
Notre Dame is the last ranked opponent the Boilers will face before Big 10 conference begins. Without question it is their best non-conference win, and thus the victory will be an important item in the Old Gold and Black’s NCAA tournament resume come March. Just as important is the fact that the team’s generally high level of play against a tough opponent should be an enormous confidence booster to the young Boilers.
Game Ball: Carol Duncan