First Round – WNIT
The Women’s National Invitational Tournament kicks off the collegiate basketball ywar. When the Purdue Boilermakers tipped off against the Belmont Bruins on Thursday, they were the very first two teams playing D1 basketball in the 2006-2007 season. This was good news for the fans in Mackey who couldn’t wait to see the “new look” Boilers. This was after a summer of rampant speculation about the changes – in attitude, conditioning, play selection, and effort – that new head coach Sharon Versyp would bring to the table. What the crowd saw was a team that played hard and attempted to run a revamped offense. The Boilers evidenced a great deal of talent and potential, but also that they have more than a few wrinkles to work out in the coming weeks and months.
When the game began it was obvious that the Bruins’ game plan was the age old strategy employed by less talented teams in an attempt to steal a win: slow the game down, keep the score low, and hope to hang around until the final minutes when anything can happen. This meant lots of perimeter passing before getting into an offense and running lots of time off the clock after each offensive board prior to attempting another shot. The Boilers’ limited roster dictates they spend most of the time in a zone defense and they had a great deal of difficulty securing offensive boards, things that played right into the Bruin’s hands. Add in the inevitable rust that comes for playing the first competitive game in 7 months, and the result was a low scoring game that had its share of ragged moments. Belmont drew first blood, but a Gearlds basket tied the game up, and her three pointer at the 16:15 gave the home team its first lead. The Bruins tied it up with a triple of their own, but 2 Lawless free throws put the Gold and Black up for good, 7-5. Purdue’s offense was often shaky and at times disjointed, but their defense was more than up to the task of shutting down the Bruins. They were able to slowly pull away over the duration of the first half and they went into the locker room ahead by 16, 36-20.
The Boilers came out of the locker room loose and relaxed, and when the second half began it was apparent that the believed that the game was already in the bag. The home team stood by and watched the Bruins hustle for every loose ball, sky in for every rebound, and score 7 unanswered points. When Tony Cross’ charges closed the gap to 36-27 Versyp had seen enough. She called a time out with 18 minutes remaining, and wasted no time bringing her charges minds back into Mackey Arena. The Boilers quickly ran off 7 points of their own and led 45-29 with 15 minutes to play. The team played offense more consistently in the final 10 minutes. Plays like a razor sharp give and go from Howell to Wisdom-Hylton and back for a wide open lay-up gave the Boiler faithful a glimpse of the team’s potential, while the number of offensive boards given up reminded them how far the team has yet to go. When it was all said and done, the Boilers had won by 24, 67-43.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game
Versyp has introduced a post on the high block, triangle type offensive system this year. While the system plays to the teams strengths and thus is worth pursuing, it did not run very smoothly first time out of the box. The team abandoned the system for large portions of the game and went back to the tried and true slashing to the basket style of last year’s offense. As a result the team looked quite a bit like they did in previous years. Luckily, the Boilers were 20 game winners in previous years, so this departure from the game plan did not jeopardize the outcome. The team shot 40% from the floor including 38% from behind the arc.
The team deserves special commendation for shutting down Alysha Clark. Clark won Atlantic Sun MVP player as a freshman and averaged over 20 points and 11 rebounds last year. She was double teamed every time she got the ball, and finished with 8 points in 35 minutes on 3-10 shooting. Overall Belmont shot 23% from the field including 20% from behind the arc. The low three point shooting percent is particularly noteworthy as Purdue played in a zone the entire night and the Bruins are known as a perimeter-oriented team.
If improvement is the largest room in the Boiler’s house, then rebounding is the gigantic entertainment center that is taking up half that room. The Bruins pulled down one more carom than the Boilers – 41- 40 – including a remarkable 24 “O” boards. No doubt boxing out will be a huge point of emphasis in the coming days and weeks. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Erin Lawless led the Boilers with 8 rebounds each.
Free throw shooting:
The Old gold and black took full advantage of their freebies, hitting 20 of 23 attempts for 87%. Lindsay W-H, Jodi Howell, and Katie Gearlds were perfect from the stripe.
The Boilers recorded 13 assists to 15 turnovers, a mark that, while it could be better, wasn’t too awful for a first game. The team’s largest problem appeared to be entry passes into the post, as too often the perimeter players would try to force the ball through defenders or attempt to pass at the wrong time.
The evening began with Erin Lawless receiving an honorary ball to commemorate her 1,000 point as a Boilermaker. She passed the milestone in last year’s loss to North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. Erin was one of the posts that had trouble receiving the ball, on several offensive sets she cut to the free throw line only to have the ball passed to her ankles. When she did get the rock she went aggressively to the hole, and in most instances she made something positive happen. Erin finished the night with 15 points (3-5, 9-10 FT), 8 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a blocked shot to 1 turnover.
Midway through the second half, Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton contested a three-point shooter by leaping out on her. The Bruin neatly sidestepped the shot contest and launched the ball. Lindsay, however, had the athleticism to recover and still block the shot. One of the reasons LWH is so effective defensively is that her ability to block shots and get her mitts on the ball is so uncanny that it unnerves the other team’s players. Lindsay was a few missed lay-ups short of having an all around excellent game. She finished in double figures with 11 points (3-10, 5-5 FT), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals, and 4 turnovers.
Jodi Howell picked up two quick fouls in the first half and, perhaps as a result, was more passive that typical. She didn’t score until half way through the second stanza, but finish strong and looked much better in the final minutes of the game. At the end of the game she had 6 points (2-2, 1-1 3 pt.er, 1-1 FT), 3 rebounds, and an assist to 4 turnovers.
Katie Gearlds’ versatility will be put to the test this year. Katie can moves up and down the line-up to fill in for any other player, and on most nights she will probably spend time playing several positions due to the Boiler’s short bench. On Thursday Katie became the player with the ball in her hands when Purdue needed a bucket. She never failed to deliver. When Katie’s fade away jump shot is on, she becomes essentially unguardable. In 35 minutes the All-Big 10 First Team Member scored 24 points (8-17, 3-8 3 pt.er, 5-5 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal to 2 turnovers.
FahKara Malone got the start, and redeemed herself quite well. As was the case with the exhibition games, she became visibly more comfortable as the game wore on, and, in the final 10 minutes, was in rhythm and in control. On of the main reasons for this may have been because she discovered that she could break Belmont’s presses and traps by putting the pedal to the metal and zooming past her defenders into the front court. Like the other perimeter players FahKara had trouble getting entry passes to find their mark. Malone’s defense is already very good, however, and she was extremely successful at preventing dribble penetration. In her first collegiate outing, the freshman scored 3 points (1-6, 1-4 3 pt.er) 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal to 4 turnovers.
It was reported that Lauren Mioton had the flu all week and was under the weather. Although she played fewer minutes that she might have otherwise, when she was on the court she demonstrated no ill effects. Her ball handling was better than in either exhibition game, and she was effective when she was on the court. Lauren did not score, but did pull down a rebound.
Danielle Campbell had a wonderful game. She looks for her shot without forcing things, and can run the floor as quickly as any guard. Danielle recorded a career best 4 blocked shots and also pulled down 4 rebounds and scored 4 points (2-7). The most notable thing about Danielle’s game, however, was the fact that she played 24 minutes of tough interior defense while only picking up 1 personal foul.
Kiki Freeman is looking like she’ll be the ideal spark off the bench this year. She plays hard when she’s on the court and can defend both the perimeter and the wing positions. She’s just starting to scratch the surface of her abilities, and it will be fun this year to watch her develop. On Thursday she had 4 points (2-5, 0-2 FT), 1 rebound, 2 assists, and a steal.
Red certainly isn’t Coach Versyp’s color. She looks much better wearing black and gold on the sidelines. With the triumph Versyp joins every other Purdue women’s basketball coach in winning the first game of her career. And it is very possible that she was the least satisfied of the bunch. After the game she praised the team’s efforts, but also made it clear that merely getting a win didn’t make everything OK and that she wasn’t happy with the execution. It is that level of perfectionism that many are hoping will translate into winning big games in which Purdue is the underdog. One can only hope that is the case.
One of the nicest things about watching Versyp coach is that she concentrates on her players and doesn’t spend time “working” the referees. That is a very welcome change as whining and arguing with the officials sets a terrible example for the players. The officials were a very experienced crew, and by and large they did a good job.
The official attendance was 7477, which is basically the base of season ticket holders plus student gold cardholders. Although there may not have been quite so many people in the stands, the lower bowl was fairly full and the crowd was loud and enthusiastic. A special shout out goes to the band. They have learned some new tunes over the summer (Alice Cooper’s School’s Out is particularly stirring) while retaining the old favorites.
The Boilers will next take on Hartford on Sunday in the second round of the WNIT. It has already been announced that they will also host the third round in Mackey if they can get past the Hawks. If the Boilers make it to the final round of the WNIT they will have played 5 games in 7 days as their regularly scheduled contest against Washington will take place next week in the middle of the WNIT games. Although it’s wonderful to get such a wealth of basketball so early in the season, one hopes that it doesn’t take too much out of the 8-player rotation on the team.
Game Ball: Erin Lawless