© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
From on outsider’s perspective, it appears that something very dramatic occurred on the day Penn State lost to Liberty in the 2004 NCAA tournament. Some time between the final buzzer and when Head Coach Rene Portland walked into the PSU locker room, she crossed the line between an unyielding, principled taskmaster to one who is pathologic. From all accounts Portland lost it completely when she addressed her team. She initially blamed the loss on her team’s choice of socks, but soon came to the tried and true reason for failure given by unfit leaders everywhere – bad seeds. Portland is notorious for scapegoating some of the young women who suffer under her “leadership,” and to this day she has a team divided into pets and goats. The reasons why certain players end up in the PSU dog house are many, but in some instances they center on appearance. If someone looks “gay” or “too black” they are a target. Needless to say, dividing players along those lines has gotten Portland into a fair amount of hot water over the years, and she is currently in the middle of a discrimination law suit brought by one of the young women she summarily dismissed on that night.
Like the serial killer who writes “stop me before I kill again”, Portland’s actions and results since the Liberty loss are all but begging someone in higher administration to step in and relieve her of her coaching duties. But there is no CEO at Penn State with the authority and power to pull a Donald Trump “you’re fired” on a coach with 27 years experience. What the administration did instead was to cross their fingers and hope things would go away. When the facts from the Liberty meltdown got out more quickly than the official university spin, the Portland problem was formally addressed.
The upshot was yet another line drawn in the sand, stating that Portland’s past behaviors were inappropriate and that any further misconduct would result in dismissal. The only thing the administration failed to do was to call their actions “double secret probation”.
The Lady Lions dressed 10 players when they took on the Purdue Boilermakers on Sunday afternoon in Mackey Arena. Adrienne Squire, the teams starting shooting guard and best outside threat left the team right before the Big 10 season began. Her abrupt departure amounts to business as usual for Portland’s team, and the official word is that nobody had any idea why Squire made her decision. The Indiana native’s defection made an inexperienced team that struggles to score that much more inexperienced and incapable of scoring. It also made a probable blowout for the Old Gold and Black a sure thing.
The game began as a defensive struggle. PSU drew first blood at the 19:30 mark, and the Boilers finally responded more than a minute later. At the first media time out the score was only 4-2 in Purdue’s favor. The Boilermakers then got down to business and ran their offense to a T. They methodically found high percentage shots while they kept the Lady Lions on lock down defensively. The Old Gold and Black spent most of its time in a zone, but applied a great deal of ball pressure as the Blue and White were attempting to bring the ball up the court. When the Lady Lions did manage to get the ball into the half court, they had the interior defense and shot blocking prowess of Wisdom-Hylton to contend with. When PSU finally took a time out at the 13:12 the score was 8-2 and the visitors had more shot clock violations than made baskets.
The Boilers rolled out to a 21-7 lead by the 8 minute time-out, and it looked like another easy outing for the home team. The Old Gold and Black began to turn the ball over and miss easy shots, however, resulting in a long scoring drought. Penn State, meanwhile, settled down and started finding their range. The Boiler lead shrunk slowly but steadily as the minutes counted down, and when the half finished their lead had been cut to 4, 25-21.
The Boilers came out of the locker room with a new found sense of energy and purpose. Instead of going back to patiently working the ball, they took a shot 5 seconds into the half. When Erin Lawless’ three pointer found the net, the team and the crowd came back to life. The offense snapped back to its early game form and ripped off 22 points to PSU’s 7. With 10 minutes left to play the Boilers were ahead 54-35, and the game was essentially over. Versyp was able to substitute liberally in the final minutes. There was not drop off in execution with the substitutes, and the Boiler lead continued to grow. When the final buzzer sounded Purdue had won by 26, 70-44.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Boilers uncharacteristically struggled in the first half and had a difficult time connecting on their shots. This had little to do with shot selection, rather the ball just wouldn’t drop. Over all the Boilers only connected on 40% of their shots, including a measly 14% from behind the arc. When the Boilers picked things up in the second stanza, their shooting woes disappeared and they returned to their earlier season form. By hitting 50% of their attempts in the second they managed to average 44% for the game.
Purdue came into the game as one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and they did nothing to hurt their reputation Sunday. They spent most of their time in a zone defense – daring the Lady Lions to shoot over them. By and large the Lady Lions could not, hitting only 2 of their 15 attempts from behind the arc. This poor perimeter shooting allowed the Boilers to sag in and clog up the middle. PSU committed 17 turnovers of which 8 were credited as Purdue steals.
Long shots tend to bounce far from the hoop, and initially the Boilers had a difficult time adjusting and getting into proper position. This resulted in the team getting badly beaten on the boards, 33-39. In all fairness, one must remember that there are not many offensive rebounds to grab if half your shots go in, so one might expect low O-board numbers to accompany high shooting percentages. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton led the way for Purdue with 8 boards.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Old Gold and Black had a phenomenal afternoon at the stripe, connecting on 15 of their 16 charity attempts for 93%. Lindsay WH, Katie Gearlds, Danielle Campbell, and Jodi Howell were all perfect from the stripe.
Purdue dissected the Penn State defense with surgical precision. Time and again the hapless Lions would bite on the first cutter while the Purdue players had the patience to wait for a secondary player to get free. The Boilers recorded as a team a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio (16:8), a mark that is virtually unheard of. This makes the team was enormously fun to watch, and one can tell that the players are enjoying their time on the court just as much.
There aren’t enough adjectives in the dictionary to praise the job being done by FahKara Malone. A word that might not come to mind is “lucky”, but one only has to look at the faded star of Brianne O’Rourke to realize how fortunate it is that such a supremely coachable player is under the tutelage of a competent coach. Malone now looks extremely comfortable running the offense and keying the Boiler’s defensive pressure. The freshman still improves each time on the court, and is now becoming increasingly proficient at using interior penetration to set up the pass. Her best play of the night was when she caused a Lady Lion player to literally fall down attempting to keep up with her cross over moves on the way to the basket. FahKara recorded a new season high for assists with 8 on Sunday. This gives the freshman a combined 15 assists to 2 turnovers in her Big 10 career. While assists are a point guard’s meat and potatoes, FahKara can add the gravy as well – with 4 points (2-8, 0-4 3 pt.er, 0-1 FT), a rebound, a blocked shot, and two steals.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton probably inhabits the nightmares of many opposing players. She is now sagging back, almost daring other teams to shoot so that she can close in and block their shots. Her best play of the afternoon may have been when she reached out and plucked a Penn State pass out of the air with one arm. LWH has been the beneficiary of Purdue’s improved offensive execution as many times plays are run that result in Lindsay being all alone under the basket. This, in turn, has helped her shooting efficiency. On Sunday she connected on 7 of her 10 attempts for 19 points (7-10, 5-5 FT). She also led the team in rebounding (8), steals (5), and blocked shots (5). To top it off, the junior had 2 assists to only 1 turnover.
If Lindsay is the finesse player on the low block, then Erin Lawless is the enforcer. For most of the afternoon Erin had Amanda Brown draped all over her, yet was able to break the contact and get her shot off when needed. Erin’s three point field goal 5 seconds into the second half was the play that turned the game around, and it speaks highly of the coaching staff’s trust in the senior for her number to be called in that instance. Erin isn’t getting as much attention as some of the other players, but just keeps on delivering solid, double figure games every time out. Erin finished the day with 11 points (5-8, 1-1 3 pt.er), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal to one turnover.
Jodi Howell just missed double figures herself, and had an excellent all around game. She subs in and out a fair amount, and this strategy seems to be helping her stay effective. Jodi only took 4 of her 8 shoot attempts from behind the arc. This is a good sign as it indicated that she is looking to be a three dimensional player, rather than merely a three point threat. In all, the sophomore recorded 9 points (3-8, 1-4 3 pt.er, 2-2 FT), 5 rebounds, an assist, and a turnover.
Katie Gearlds shot wasn’t dropping and she became somewhat frustrated as the attempts clanged off the rim. In the second half, the senior finally began to attack the basket and draw fouls. Katie’s best play of the night occurred at the end of the first half. She had the ball at the top of the key while the other 4 Boilers had flattened out against the baseline in full clear out mode. When Katie finally made her move into the paint, the entire Lady Lion team converged on her, so she flipped the ball to Lindsay WH for an easy lay-up. Katie finished the day with a total of 12 points (3-13, 1-2 3 pt.er, 5-5 FT), 4 rebounds, and 2 assists to 0 turnovers.
Lauren Mioton showed a little dazzle as she scored on a left handed scoop shot in the lane. Otherwise Lauren gave her usual solid minutes as back-up point. In all Lauren had 2 points (1-3, 0-1 3 pt.er), a rebound and a turnover.
Danielle Campbell had an excellent second half. For the first time in several contests she used her strength and speed to get to the rim and then finish. Danielle plays with a decided edge, and she uses her attitude to her advantage when matching up against a physical post such as Amanda Brown. In one of her best games as a Boiler, Danielle scored 11 points (4-6, 3-3 FT), 2 rebounds, and a blocked shot to one turnover.
Kiki Freeman had the best block of the afternoon as she came out of nowhere to get her paws on a Penn State shot and then stuffed it right back down the Lady Lion’s throat. The box score was a bit of surprise as during the game it seemed that Kiki was looking for her shot. In the box score, however, she is only credited with two attempts resulting in 2 points. Her 5 rebounds in 20 were no illusion, however.
Laura Garriga and Brittany Dildine saw action for 3 and 1 minute respectively, but did not dent the box score.
All women’s basketball coaches (along with all the coaches in the stands) know where they want their team to end up. Only the good ones know *how* to get it there. Versyp recognized that the Boilers had to dictate tempo and speed up the game in the second half. By telling her players to shoot as soon as an open look appeared she gave them the how. The Boiler defensive strategy of sagging into the paint was a sound one, and required no adjustment.
The officials did a fine job.
An announced crowd of 8300 attended the game, and they served as the vocal 5th man admirably. Mackey was chock-a-block with recruits, here’s hoping they liked what they saw.
With the win the Boilers improve to 13-2 on the season including 2-0 in the Big 10. They are playing very well right now, and should only get stronger when Kalika France can suit up. Things get much harder for the Boilers, however, as they next go on a 3 game road trip. First up is Iowa a team that took Ohio State to the wire, then to Texas to complete their non-conference schedule, and, finally, Michigan State University.
FahKara Malone and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton