Long time Purdue volleyball coach Carolyn Dewey once said that she had many players with All-American bodies, but very few with All-American minds. Having all the physical talent in the world does no good if the possessor lacks the mental discipline to train hard or the composure to perform in pressure situations. There's a reason why most All-Americans are upperclassmen and why players often excel as seniors after three years of spotty play. It is because the player's mind has finally caught up to her body and she has developed the maturity to concentrate regardless of the opponent. For while physical abilities are fixed at birth, a player's mental state and degree of maturity are constantly changing.
Like individuals, teams go through a maturation process, and the Purdue University Boilermakers are no exception. The leading indicator that they are still not where they should be in the maturity department has been their sloppy play against weak opponents. The team had yet another opportunity to demonstrate that they were growing up when they took on the 6-18 (0-12) Michigan Wolverines on Thursday night in Mackey arena. By the end of the evening it was evident that, although the Boilers are improving in the mental toughness department, they are still "not quite ripe."
In all, the game was a "good news-bad news" story for the Old Gold and Black. First the bad news: The first half was an exercise in frustration for all who call Purdue their favorite team. The team would do OK for a few minutes, then lose focus and allow the Wolverines back into the game. Some bright spots in the half were Erin Lawless’ and Natasha Bogdanova's aggressive play, and the fact that the Boiler's generally had decent to good defensive intensity (as compared to their recent games vs. Northwestern and IPFW in which the defensive effort would have to be called poor to decent). The teams went into half time deadlocked at 27 all.
Now the good news: It was a different team that took the court after the intermission. These Boilermakers were focused and played with great energy. As one might expect, Purdue used its new found abilities to rapidly pull away from the struggling Wolverines. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton bounced back from a lackluster first half and looked aggressively to score. She hit 3 of the first 6 Boiler baskets of the half, punctuated by a Traore steal and break away lay-up that was absolutely breathtaking in its speed and authority. By the first media time out the Boilers were up 40-31. Erin Lawless took over from there, scoring from all over the court. The Boilers retained their high level of play and extended the lead throughout the second stanza. Purdue was up by 27 points with 3:28 remaining the contest (71-44) when Curry put in the end of her bench. A Cherelle George reverse lay-up with a little over a minute to play brought Purdue its final points on the evening. The final score was 75-50.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
Purdue appeared to be concentrating on getting the ball to the low block. They attempted entry passes when they were open, and forced them when they were not. When the ball arrived at its intended target, more often than not the shot attempt was successful. Overall the Boilers shot 49% from the floor, including hitting at a 55% clip in the second half. The only dim spot was three point shooting as the Boilers only managed 3 makes in 11 attempts for 27%.
As in past games against weaker opponents, when Purdue lost focus the first thing to go out the window was switching and helping out on defense. When they tightening up their defense, the interior was pretty much closed for the Wolverines. Michigan recorded a total of 22 turnovers, of which 11 credited as Purdue steals.
After being beaten on the boards 14 to 15 in the first half, the Boilers were able to regain control and finished the game with 34 rebounds to 27 for Michigan. The Boiler posts again did a very good job boxing out. Katie Gearlds and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton led the way for the Boilers with 6 boards apiece.
Free Throw Shooting:
Purdue is generally a good free throw shooting team, and they had an excellent outing on Thursday. The team connected on 12 of its 15 attempts for 80%. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Danielle Campbell were perfect from the stripe.
At times the Boilers appeared to be locked into set offensive plays and would attempt to run them even if this meant passing up open looks and throwing the ball to heavily guarded players. It makes one wonder if one reason why the Boilers have weak outings against poor teams is because they have more than one agenda. In addition to winning the game, it could be that the Boilers use these situations to "road test" new plays and to work on points of emphasis. When the Old Gold and Black got down to it in the second half, their offense and defense was crisp and extremely effective.
Aya Traore did nothing to hurt her WNBA stock on Thursday. She penetrated through the shorter Michigan guards like a knife through warm butter, used her length and quickness to nab steals on the perimeter, and seemingly scored at will. Overall, Aya hit double figures with 11 points (5-9, 1-2 3 pt.er) and also pulled down 3 boards and had an assist, blocked shot, and 4 steals to 1 turnover.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was on the receiving end of Curry's wrath after "disappearing" through weak play in the first half (although her block on what looked to be a sure break away lay-up was a thing of beauty). Lindsay responded, aggressively looking for her shot and scoring all 10 of her points in the second half. All in all, Lindsay had 10 points (4-8, 2-2 FT), 6 rebounds, an assist, 2 blocked shots, and a steal to 3 turnovers.
Erin Lawless had one of her better games of the year. Perhaps this was because her ankle is finally comfortable, or perhaps it was the fact she finally wasn't playing a team that was set on mugging her every time she touched the ball. Whatever the reason, Erin was on fire Thursday night. She hit from all over the court, set picks and screens, and dove to the ground after loose balls. Erin was about Purdue's only offense in the first half, and she kept the Boilers in the game while the rest of the team regrouped. Perhaps the best thing about the junior's game, however, was the fact that her first foul was picked up with 13:16 to go in the second half. In an excellent outing, Erin recorded 16 points (5-7, 1-2 3 pt.er, 5-7 FT), 3 rebounds, and an assist to 0 turnovers.
Katie Gearlds' mind looked to be elsewhere during the first 20 minutes as she had some uncharacteristic turnovers and shot the ball quite poorly. She stepped things up in a very big way after intermission, playing with intensity and regaining her dead-eye accuracy. At the end of the evening Katie had a total of 19 points (7-12, 1-3 3 pt.er, 4-5 FT), 6 rebounds, and 2 assists to 2 turnovers.
Sharika Webb kept the team going and her 7 assists speak to the job she was able to do setting up her teammates. The final step in Sharika's own journey towards maturity will be taken when she is able to get her team to play with fire and intensity before Curry needs to say a word. Webby finished with 2 points (1-3, 0-1 3pt.er), 3 rebounds, 7 assists, and a steal to 1 turnover.
Cherelle George did everything one can ask of a back up point guard and more. She immediately got into the Michigan backcourt player's heads, and her ball pressure visibly agitated the Wolverines. George looked to set up her teammates first, but shot the ball appropriately and brought a very high level of energy to the court. In all, Cherelle had 6 points (3-5, 0-1 3 pt.er), 1 rebound, 2 assists, and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.
Natasha Bogdanova's game was the exact opposite of everyone else's. Bogs looked like a world beater in the first half - grabbing an O board and getting the put back and scoring easily. In the second half, she reverted to her tendency to throw the ball towards the basket with little hope of making the shot. Although Natasha's level of play remains frustrating when one considers her untapped potential, she is certainly doing better than she had been earlier in the year. Bogs finished the night with 4 points (2-7, 0-1 3 pt.er), 4 rebounds, a steal and a turnover.
Kiki Freeman saw extended minutes in the second half, and she did nothing to indicate that Curry's faith in her abilities was misplaced. What I love most about Kiki's game is that, unlike the majority of Purdue players who have adopted the "role player" mantle, Kiki can be counted on to score as she connects on a high percentage of her shots. Such was the case Thursday as she totaled 4 points on 2-4 shooting and a recorded a steal.
Carol Duncan does not see many minutes in close games because the starters stay in unless they get into foul trouble or need a rest. In blow outs, however, her minutes get squeezed by players further down the pecking order. Carol played well during her 7 minutes court time and recorded a rebound and a steal.
Danielle Campbell had trouble finding her stroke, and was less efficient from the field than is typical. She is always a good rebounder, and was able to pull down 3 boards in 5 minutes of action. She also scored 3 points (1-5, 1-1 FT) and committed a turnover.
Lauren Mioton did a fine job running the point during her 6 minutes of action. Her entry passes deserve special mention as she did an excellent job getting the ball into the post players on the low block. She did not score on her only shot attempt, but did pull down a rebound.
Stephanie Helgeson managed a rebound and an extremely illegal (but not whistled) moving screen during her 2 minutes of action.
There have been those who have criticized head coach Kristy Curry for being too nice to her players, suggesting that she likes them too much to be much of a disciplinarian. It's highly unlikely that the players would agree with that assessment after the fire and brimstone half time "talks" she's had to deliver lately. There's no doubt Curry would prefer to take a lighter tact, but she'll do whatever it takes to get a decent performance from her players.
What does a coach need to do to get a technical in this league? Michigan head Cheryl Burnett was so incensed over a foul she saw as a charge (the officials called a block) that she stormed the court, grabbed the ball, and only returned it when coaxed. The officials didn't appear too happy with her antics, but declined to give her the T.
The players and band appear to enjoy a special bond this year. During warm ups, the band members would cheer "yay" or sympathize with an "aww" every time a player took a shot. It was obvious that the players enjoyed their mini-cheering section a great deal.
Seven thousand forty eight souls braved the weather Thursday, and it was apparent that they are getting tired of watching the Boilers fumble around with weak opponents. The main sound heard from the stands was an unhappy grumbling during the first 20 minutes. When the level of play improved in the second half, however, the crowd responded with enthusiastic cheering.
The Boilers put their 21-3 (12-1) record on the line Sunday against a surprisingly good Indiana Hoosier team. Once hopes that their close call in Bloomington convinces the Old Gold and Black that they will need to give 40 minutes of consistent effort on Sunday. If they sputter early, they may find their Mackey winning streak snapped and their hopes for a regular season crown dashed.
Game Ball: Erin Lawless