WNIT – Second Round
The WNIT tournament selection committee has fairly strict criteria when picking their field of 16. Each team must be from a different conference, and they try to spread the wealth and have diverse squads represented each year. In addition, they are looking for teams that have winning records and have generated some buzz by virtue of qualifying for post-season play. The Hartford Hawks came into Mackey Arena on Sunday for the second round of the WNIT riding a wave of publicity. They have been selected to win the American East and are coached by Jennifer Rizzotti, a UConn alumna who had a lot to do with the Husky’s first National Championship. Rizzotti imbues her tough-as-nails personality into her team, and they are a well coached, scrappy squad. In 2006 they made history by making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament after knocking off Temple. Judging from that recent outcome, as well as the 17 point drubbing they gave Dartmouth in their WNIT 1st round game, one might have expected a closely fought contest against Purdue.
The first 10 minutes of the game played out exactly as predicted. It was a low scoring affair due to good defense on the Boiler’s part on one end, but plenty of unforced turnovers on the other. The teams traded baskets, and with 9 minutes left in the first Purdue was only ahead by 1 point – 14-13. Then the Boilers settled down, took care of the ball and made their shots. They slowly pulled away from the Hawks, but a three pointer by Howell and jumpers by Widsom-Hylton were answered so that three minutes later the Gold and Black were only ahead by 3 at 20-17. Then FahKara Malone caught fire. She hit 2 three-point baskets and brought enough intensity on defense to shut down the hapless Hawks. In the final 5 minutes of the first period the Boilers ran up 12 unanswered points and went into the locker room ahead by 17, 34-17.
Purdue had obviously learned from the Belmont game, and there was no sagging in intensity in the second stanza despite the large lead. Lindsay WH was primarily responsible for stretching the lead to 26 points as she hit 4 straight baskets in 4 minutes. One of Versyp’s stated goals is to have the team play hard till the final buzzer and to finish out games. The Boilers evidenced that they have taken the lesson to heart, as there was little drop off in intensity or execution in the final 10 minutes despite the 20+ point cushion between the 2 squads. The largest margin of the night was established with 28 seconds remaining when Kiki Freeman hit a 10-foot jump shot. Playing hard does not trump good sportsmanship, however, and when the Boilers regained the ball after the shot clock had been turned off they held onto the ball. When time finally expired Purdue had won by 35 points, 83-48.
Comments of specific aspects of the game:
The Boiler shot a phenomenal 57% from the floor, including an unheard of 63% in the second half. Included in this figure is 8-14 three pointers made for 57% from down town. The reason for these numbers was equal parts excellent shot selection and having a huge number of lay-ups scored in transition.
Purdue remained in a zone defense for most of the night, as they will be for most every night this season. The team did an excellent job of pressuring the ball, forcing the Hawks into committing 18 turnovers.
After a dismal rebounding performance in their first game, the Boilers bounced back and won the battle of the boards 37-32 on Sunday. Every member of the team established good boxing out position when a Hartford shot went up. A big step up for the Boilers.
Free Throw Shooting:
Ironically, charity tosses was the strongest statistic against Belmont but the weakest against Hartford. The team made 7 of 14 attempts for 50%, and not a single Boiler made all her free throws.
The team looked fairly rocky for the first 10 minutes. The players appeared confused on offense, and numerous unforced turnovers were the result. Then FahKara changed her mindset, upped her energy, and attacked. The entire team followed her lead and things began to click for the Old Gold and Black. From that point on the passes found their mark and the team was able to move the ball and deliver to shooters ready to score. As a team the Boilers recorded 22 assists to 14 turnovers on the night.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton had perhaps her best 20 minutes in a Purdue uniform during the second half. She was everywhere on the court (including sprawled over the announcers’ desk a time or two). She used her quickness to grab rebounds in addition to grabbing steals and blocking shots, and, after going 3-8 in the first half, hit 6 or her 7 shot attempts. Her line is truly eye popping: A game high 18 points (9-15), a career best and game high 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocked shots, 2 steals, and 0 turnovers. It doesn’t get much more complete than that.
Erin Lawless was “credited” with 6 turnovers, but from the stands it appeared as if many of those could have easily been pinned on her teammates attempting to get her the ball in traffic. Despite her ball handling woes, Erin brought her signature toughness to the low block and was able to find open teammates on offense. Erin finished the night with 15 points (4-10, 0-1 3 pt.er, 7-8 FT), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a blocked shot.
Jodi Howell finally found her stroke as her teammates found her behind the arc. The result was a career high 16 points for the sophomore, including nailing 4-6 from downtown. In addition to scoring, Jodi plays hard on defense and is a very smart player. She totaled the aforementioned 16 points (6-9, 4-6 3 pt.er), 1 rebound, and 3 assists to 1 turnover.
Katie Gearlds had a quiet game in which she blended into the team and racked up her stat.s without drawing undo attention. Every so often she’d work to get a shot off, and it was evident that no Hawk could stop her if she was set on scoring. My favorite play of the night was a small, subtle move on Katie’s part. Gearlds rebounded a Kiki Freeman miss under the basket. She could have put it up herself, but instead she dished it right back to the redshirt sophomore who then sank the shot. In that small action Katie was able to display the trust she had in Kiki, helped to build the underclassman’s confidence, and increased team chemistry. In all, Gearlds had 11 points (5-11, 1-2 3 pt.er), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 turnover, block, and steal.
If FahKara Malone continues to improve along the same trajectory that’s she been on since the first exhibition game, she will be better than Steven Nash by the NCAA tournament. The freshman was a bit tentative at the start of the game, but when she came back in after sitting out midway through the first half she was a new player; confident, on target, and fast, fast, fast. Malone was the straw that stirred the Boiler’s drink from then on, and the entire team fed off her explosive energy. FahKara found her stroke offensively, netting a career high 15 points (6-9, 3-5 3pt.er, 0-2 FT), but it was on defense that she made her mark. She used her quick hands to pick the hapless Hawks clean of the ball on the way to 7 steals (tying the Purdue freshman record in the process). Malone also grabbed a rebound and dished out 3 assists to 3 turnovers.
Lauren Mioton was challenged as she brought the ball up the court, but was able to withstand the pressure without coughing up the rock. Although she appears to be more worried about not hurting the team than making an impact, she was credited with a rebound.
Danielle Campbell’s game was a mirror image of her first outing of the year. Her time was limited by 4 fouls called, and she was less aggressive than earlier. Danielle is a good passer for a post player, and she was able to find other players for some nice high-low sets. Danielle’s 2 points (1-1, 0-2 FT) were scored when she put the ball on the deck and scored on a dribble drive. She finished the night with a rebound, 2 assists, and 2 blocked shot.
Kiki Freeman’s most notable play occurred when she stole the ball on the defensive end of the court and high tailed it to her basket. It couldn’t be called a breakaway attempt, however, because 4 Hartford players had gotten back and were between Kiki and the basket. She looked for all the world like she was going to attempt to force things 1 on 4 before pulling up at the high elbow and nailing the J. In a very complete outing, Kiki recorded 6 points (3-4), 2 boards, 3 assists, and a steal to 2 turnovers.
Laura Garriga saw action during the final 2 minutes of the game. As soon as Laura stepped on the court several members of the Boiler Goldrush started waving a Spanish flag, and she was visibly moved by the gesture. Garriaga failed to score on two free throw attempts, but did pull down two boards.
Versyp appeared less concerned by the score than her player’s execution, and several time outs were called when play became too sloppy. One does get that sense that this year the Boilers will concentrate on themselves and playing “Boiler ball” rather than worrying too much about neutralizing the opponent. That change is directly due to the current philosophy of the coaching staff. Two games into the season is a tad early to judge, but so far this approach is paying dividends.
Because Maine is in the same conference as Hartford, Versyp was familiar with head coach Jennifer Rizzotti’s style of play and many of the Hawk players. While this might have provided her some advantage when scouting the team, it was the large talent discrepancy that was most responsible for the final score.
The officials did more than enough to draw the ire of the fans. There was certainly no home cooking evident in the first half as the Boilers picked up 5 fouls to 2 on the visiting team. As is so often the case, however, the officials recognized the difference and balanced things out in the second.
Three minutes before the Star Spangled Banner was played, the P.A. announcer suddenly said, “Time for the percolator.” At least that’s what it sounded like from my seats. The audience responded in one voice to say, “What?” After that, some bouncy hip-hop music played over the loudspeakers and the players and coaches stood in place clapping until the clock had wound down and it was time to perform the national anthem.
The fans were fairly quite initially, but when the players got after it the audience cheered loudly and generated a fair amount of noise. The official crowd number was 7477, and the game was well attended.
Things get much tougher on Wednesday when the Boilers take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack. It is a senior-heavy team that should not be phased by the rowdy Mackey crowd. If the Boilers can put forth the same type of performance as they did tonight, however, they should have no trouble reaching the WNIT final round.
Game Ball: Lindsay Widsom-Hylton