© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
The internet chatter on the women’s basketball message boards and e-mail lists has been strangely silent in the aftermath of Monday evening’s match-up between the Purdue Boilermakers and Ohio State Buckeyes in Mackey Arena. Strange because Purdue fans are usually quite gabby in the corner of the internet that devotes itself to women’s basketball. It was particularly odd considering that the winner would get fast tracked to the regular season title. Purdue and Ohio State are the undisputed class of the Big 10, and a loss by either team to any other conference foe appears unlikely.
Perhaps the reason so little has been said about the match-up is because the game itself said it all. The forty minutes from tip-off to final buzzer told Boiler fans everything they needed to know about their team – its strengths, its weaknesses, its rooms for improvement, and, unfortunately, the key element that appears to be missing from this year’s edition of the Old Gold and Black.
This was Purdue’s game to lose. They were the host, and Mackey was packed and jumping. For thirty minutes, the game was everything the Boilers could have hoped for. They were hitting their outside shots, keeping the Buckeyes contained, and were able to maintain a small lead. Defensively, the Boilers appeared to have the strategy of stopping the once and future Big 10 Player-of-the-Year Jessica Davenport and daring someone else to hit their shots. Star Allen stepped up and did just that and the Buckeyes remained within striking distance. Kiki Freeman’s buzzer beating put back allowed the Boilers to end the first half on a high note. The Boilers began the second half the way they ended the first, and were able to extend the lead. What is more, the Buckeyes looked confused and were beginning to miss defensive assignments. The Boilers enjoyed their largest lead of the game when Erin Lawless beat the Bucks in transition and scored a lay-up and one.
It was then Ohio State switched from zone to man-to-man defense. In response, the Boilers fell to pieces. They resorted to taking quick, off balanced shots and making poorly considered penetration attempts. No surprise that only 8 or 32 attempts found the mark (including 0 for 9 from behind the arc) for 22 points in the half on 25% shooting.
Defensively the Boilers continued to do well, holding a team like Ohio State to 64 points is no mean feat. While Star Allen managed a career high 21 points, they were merely the points Jessica Davenport would have gotten instead if she had not been blanketed by Purdue defenders. The defensive effort was particularly impressive as the officials awarded 6 questionable out of bounds possessions to the Buckeyes within 3 minutes time. The Old Gold and Black’s complete inability to run an offense in the face of man to man coverage did in the Boilers. The final score was 64-55.
So, this is what we know –
1) The Boilers are a talented and athletic team, and, when playing well, they can play with anybody. As with all collegiate teams, their success is largely dictated by the decisions and playmaking ability of their point guard. FahKara Malone’s knee appeared to be bothering her as she’d take little hop steps to get off of it throughout the game. No doubt the knee and the pressure and the length of the season are all contributing factors, but FahKara played very much like the true freshman she is.
2) You can’t lob over Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. She’s too good a jumper and defender to get away with that. Lindsay fronted Jessica Davenport, daring the Buckeye perimeter players to attempt entry passes over her. She was very successful at breaking them up.
3) There’s a limit to what you can expect from any coach. X’s and O’s only go so far. After that it’s all about play on the court and the innate physical and mental attributes of the players. Neither Versyp nor Foster did anything particularly special or tricky; the players very much determined the outcome of the game.
4) Rebounding is not a strength of the Boilers. They are trying harder and are usually in better position to snare rebounds than in previous years. But, bless their hearts, they just aren’t very good at it.
These points are mere side dishes to the real meat behind the Boiler’s woes this year against Top 25 teams. The key ingredient that this team appears to be lacking lies between their ears. As a Boilermaker fan it pains me to write this, but what is most conspicuous in its absence is a mental toughness and a “refuse to lose” attitude. At least this year the players have a system and set plays (that actually work most of the time when they’re executed) to fall back on, but to win against a Top 10 team a player has to find something inside herself as well. To date the Boilers have shown no evidence that they possess to grit to come back after being punched in the mouth once or twice. They lost the game on Monday because they were not mentally up to battling a Top 10 team for 40 minutes.
Davenport may get most of the attention, but Brandi Hoskins is OSU’s gamer. When the Buckeyes need something to happen, the ball goes into her hands and she creates – she either finds a way to score or dishes off to an open teammate. Who is Purdue’s gamer? Who’s the player that wants the ball in her hands when the going gets tough? The team plays as if they took a vote on this matter, and Katie Gearlds got elected because she was home sick and didn’t make the meeting.
To her credit, Katie is trying to be this person. However, she still appears to have a poor feel as to when it’s appropriate to “let the game come to her” and look for the player who must be open if she’s being double teamed and when to attack. Erin Lawless could be the one, she certainly has the courage to take and nail big shots in big games. Ditto Lindsay Widsom-Hylton. The perimeter players have a tough time getting them the ball, however, and neither player appears very comfortable putting it on the deck and attacking the basket. In a few years time it could be FahKara and Jodi. Unfortunately, they have 1 good knee between them.
The wonderful thing about collegiate sports is that the players are constantly changing and growing. They will learn from this loss, and it may bring them together as a team and help them to address their faults. The team is still capable of achieving great things this year, but they will need to toughen up mentally for this to happen.