The Michigan State Spartans are a Kentucky Fried Chicken basketball team. In their case, the one and only thing they do is play a match-up zone defense. The team’s “Colonel” in this regard is head coach Joanne P. McCallie. McCallie spent her formative years as an assistant at Auburn University. The Tiger’s coach at the time was Joe Ciampi, master of the match-up. The match-up zone is difficult to score against as it only gives other teams open looks at undesirable locations or when third and lower shooting options have the ball.
To date, McCallie has used the Ciampi method to run up a 101-56 record in the conference. The Big 10 coaches are too good and their players too talented, however, for them to allow any one scheme to work forever. Yes, baseline three pointers are one of the lowest percentage shots a player can take. But giving a player like Katie Gearlds uncontested three pointers anywhere on the court is never a recipe (secret or not) for success. It looks like 2005-2006 is the year that many of the better conference bench heads have figured out how to beat the MSU match-up consistently. First Iowa and Minnesota demonstrated how it could be done, on Thursday night it was Purdue carving up the Spartans like a Sunday roaster.
On their very first play Purdue established that they had the Spartan’s number. The ball went from Sharika Webb to Erin Lawless on the low block. She waited a beat for the double team to come, then zipped the rock out to Katie Gearlds who was all alone behind the arc. Swish. Purdue was up 3-0 with less than 20 seconds run off the clock. Purdue’s next points were created in a similar manner. Defensively, however, the Boilers did not fight hard enough to stay right with Lindsay Bowen, and she hit 2 quick treys. At the first media time-out the score was 7-8 in the visitor’s favor. The teams then traded baskets for the next 5 minutes. Purdue had most of its success converting steals for lay-ups or scoring quickly in transition before the Spartans had time to set up in the half court. At the 9:21 mark Katie Gearlds scooped up a loose ball and led a break toward the MSU basket. No defender stepped up to stop the ball (credit Katie’s ability to look for all the world as if she was about to pass), so the junior penetrated deep into the lane before sinking a short jumper. The points pulled Purdue to within 1, 15-16. In what might be the closest approximation of real life instant replay ever displayed, Katie grabbed a long rebound and headed up the court on the very next possession. Again, Katie looked off her defenders, was never truly challenged, and hit her short jumper taken from deep in the key. The second shot put the Boilers ahead, 17-16. Purdue would never trail again. The Old Gold and Black was finding its rhythm on the offensive side while shutting down the Spartans defensively with a tough man to man. By the final media time out the Boilers had stretched the lead to 7, 29-22. When play resumed, the Boilers went right back to Katie who was (as always) all alone on the baseline. She hit her second three ball of the half. Next, Cherelle George took advantage of her unguarded status to nail two quick triples, pushing the Boiler lead out to 12 points. When the half ended the score was 38-26 in the Boiler’s favor.
The Spartans began the second half with renewed defensive intensity, causing several empty Boiler possessions. They got the ball to their star, Liz Schimek, on the low block and she was able to hit three quick baskets. The result was 6 Spartan points, and when Curry called a momentum-halting time out the visitors had closed to within 6, 38-32. The Boilers settled down and were the next team to score when Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was fouled in her break away lay-up attempt. By the first media time out of the second the Boilers had again extended their lead, 43-32. Because the Spartans are a zone team, they have limited options when faced with a large deficit. Most teams in that situation attempt to speed up the game and generate possessions by going into a man to man and putting enough pressure on every pass that their opponents take quick shots. A team in zone doesn’t pressure perimeter passes, almost by definition, and has no choice but to watch the shot clock run down if the other team chooses to milk it. The way the Spartans attempted to make up the deficit was to create turnovers with a full court pressure as the Boilers brought the ball up the court. Purdue had little trouble breaking the press, and were the frequent beneficiaries of the mismatch pressing creates under the basket. Finally, the Old Gold and Black decided to avoid the pressing and zoning all together by beating the Spartans down the court and scoring in transition off of every defensive rebound. The Spartans primary offensive option was to get the ball to Schimek on the low block. Liz was in Wisdom-Hylton jail, however, and Lindsay picked off most of the entry attempts. The result was a 24- 13 run by Curry’s charges, and the Boilers entered the final 5 minutes of the contest ahead 69-42. Aya Traore made two more baskets (including a silver platter wide open three pointer of her own) before Curry and McCallie put in the ends of their respective benches with 2:43 left to play. A tiny little bright spot for MSU was the fact that their bench players outscored Purdue’s, as then went on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 20. The final score was 73-53.
Comments on specific aspects of the game:
The Boilers played an opportunistic offense, taking what the Spartans gave them. This translated into taking and making lots of outside shots – the team was 10-18 from behind the arc. Purdue was also able to generate offense from its defense, scoring an incredible 20 points off MSU turnovers. Since points off turnovers tend to be lay-ups, they usually lead to high shooting percentages. Such was the case Thursday as Purdue hit on 47% of their field goal attempts.
Purdue kept it streak alive, as MSU joined 7 other Big 10 foes in being unable to reach 60 points against the Boilers. Unlike the Spartans, the Boilers kept the visitors on their heels by mixing up their defensive looks. At times they’d be in a zone, but would alternate to other schemes on occasion. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton took on the assignment of stopping Big 10’s third leading scorer, Liz Schimek. Schimek was held to 4 points below her average. Most importantly, Lindsay did this without needing much help. This allowed the guards to stay out on MSU’s perimeter players, and essentially shut down Lindsay Bowen. MSU committed 16 turnovers of which 11 were credited as Purdue steals.
After being badly beaten in the first 5 minutes of the contest, Purdue was able to right the ship and finished the game with more boards than their rival – 36-32. This was the first time in several games that Purdue emerged on the top half of this statistic. Wisdom-Hylton led the Boilers with 7 caroms.
Free Throw Shooting:
There is a theory that free throw percentage is a fairly good indicator of a team’s mental state. Teams that are hurried and under stress tend to choke at the line, while those who are relaxed yet focused can hope to achieve their practice percentages. If this theory is correct, then the Boilers were quite at ease as they connected on 7 of their 8 attempts for 87%. Aya Traore and Erin Lawless were perfect from the stripe. The most amazing statistic in the free throw shooting department was that Katie Gearlds was the game-high scorer at 23 points without attempting a single free throw.
This year’s team is a joy to watch, primarily because they move the ball well and (usually) with a purpose. The Spartans threw presses and traps the Boilers way all night, and it barely phased Curry’s charges. As a team the Boiler recorded more assists (18) than turnovers (12); and good things always result when this happens.
Aya Traore was switched onto Tiffanie Shives when the freshman got hot from the field. That took care of that. Aya has emerged as an All-American caliber player, and can be counted on to play great defense, score within the offense, create her own shot when the offense isn’t working well, and involve her teammates. Aya was able to do all that Thursday on her way to 17 points (7-13, 1-3 3pt.er, 2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, and 5 assists to 2 turnovers.
There is a growing sentiment that Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton should receive the Big 10 defensive player of the year award. If any voters aren’t sure about her credentials, all they would need to do is review her play against the Spartans. Lindsay has always had the quickness and anticipation in the vertical plane to block shots. This year, she’s applied those skills on the horizontal plane to secure steals and deny passes. It has made her an extraordinarily effective post defender. What is best about Linsday, however, is that she’s not a one dimensional defensive stopper. The sophomore also scores. In a superb outing Lindsay hit double figures with 11 points (5-8, 1-2 FT), and also pulled down 7 rebounds and had 7 steals and a blocked shot to 3 turnovers.
Erin Lawless was rushing things in the first half, and is still working through a shooting slump. Most encouraging was the fact that in the second half Erin received the ball on the low block and nailed a short jumper after creating space using a step back move. It was the first glimpse of the “old Erin” in a while, and hopefully it is an indication that she’s regaining her early season form. Erin finished with 6 points (1-8, 0-1 3pt.er, 4-4 FT), 5 rebounds, and an assist to 3 turnovers.
Before the game began, Katie Gearlds was honored for scoring her 1000th point during the previous game. She is the 21st Boiler to achieve this milestone, and 7th fastest to reach the mark.
The Spartans dared Katie Gearlds to hit the baseline three pointer. Katie took that dare to the tune of hitting 5 of her 8 attempts from downtown. Katie’s confidence grows every time she steps onto the court, and she’s finally developing into the player most expected her to be. Gearlds leads the Big 10 in assist to turnover ratio, and is always a positive when she’s on the court. Katie finished the night with 23 points (9-18, 5-8 3 pt.er), 5 rebounds, 6 assists, a block and a steal to 0 turnovers.
Sharika Webb’s 5 straight points mid-way through the second half were the final nails in MSU’s coffin. Sharika appears to finally be enjoying her time playing for the Old Gold and Black, and her emotions are working for the team rather than against them. Much of the credit for the Boiler’s surprising run this year have been attributed to Aya’s jump in improvement from her junior to senior year. While true, Sharika’s large improvement should not be discounted. In all, Sharika had 8 points (3-3, 2-2 3 pter.), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal and a turnover.
The single steal recorded in Cherelle George’s box score line does not do justice to the effect the small point guard had on the opposing team. Her presence on the court pushes other teams out of their comfort zone, leading to unforced turnovers and rushed shots. Cherelle rediscovered her shooting touch chipping in with 6 points (2-4, 2-3 3pt.er), 1 rebound, and a steal.
Natasha Bogdanova appears more nervous and forces more action every game. Here’s hoping she settles down soon and lets the game come to her. When she becomes able to do that, she’ll be a major contributor for the Boilers. Bogs pulled down a rebound and committed 2 turnovers on the night.
Carol Duncan was sent in to establish order when things got too physical in the second half. She carried out her assignment, putting the clamps on Schimek and giving as good as she got under the basket. Carol finished with a rebound, an assist, and a turnover.
Danielle Campbell got pushed around a bit by MSU’s physical posts, but remained aggressive and ran the floor very well. She totaled 2 points on 1-3 shooting, pulled down 2 rebounds, and blocked a shot.
Lauren Mioton, Kiki Freeman, and Stephanie Helgeson played for 3, 3, and 2 minutes respectively. In that time Lauren and Stephanie did not dent the box score, while Kiki failed to connect on her 2 shot attempts but did record a steal.
Jodi Howell was out of the boot, but joined Ashley Mays as players who did not see action.
The Boilers were exceptionally well prepared for the Spartans. They knew how to beat the general offenses and defenses that MSU was likely to run, and they also knew how to shut down specific individual players. Curry coached with a great deal of energy during the game, and no doubt some of this rubbed off on her players as well. All in all, an excellent job by the coaching staff.
Bob Trammell and Bryan Enterline comprise two of the most inconsistent officials in the Big 10. Each had their share of head scratchers – as the teams and fans were left to puzzle out why a foul was found on one particular set but not another. Overall, however, very few infractions were whistled and the officiating did not influence the outcome of the game.
Between the reduced price for Purdue staff and free student admissions (plus the buzz that being undefeated in the Big 10 generates) the Boilers enjoyed their largest crowd of the season – 8482. Kristy Curry must wish that her players listen to her half as well as the folks in the stands, as they responded with loud cheers every time she waved her arms.
With the win the Boilers rose to 16-2, including 8-0 in the Big 10. By knocking off MSU, Purdue essentially turned the regular season Big 10 championship into a three team race. Ohio State and Minnesota each have one loss each, while the Boilers have a one-game lead over both squads.
The Boilers were hitting on all cylinders against the Spartans, and looked like they could give a tough fight to any team in the country. No doubt the Boiler faithful would sleep more easily if they thought they could trust the team to sustain this high level for the remainder of the season.
Game Ball: Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Katie Gearlds