© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
There is a rumor that in Illinois head coach Teresa Grentz’s contract is the stipulation that she be called “Hall-of-Fame Head Coach Teresa Grentz” whenever her name is announced in Champaign’s Assembly Hall. In addition to induction into The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the Immaculata alumna has racked up an impressive series of achievements in her 33 years beside the court including coaching the US Olympic team and winning a national AIAW National Championship. Whether or not she’s a very good coach at this point in time, however, is another matter. The Illini have been fairly average under her guidance. What is more, her teams are often prone to poor spacing and sloppy execution, resulting in lots of turnovers and the inability to make big plays when they’re needed. It doesn’t take the next Wooden, however, to watch the Purdue-Ohio State tape and realize that the Boilers have difficulty running their offense in the face of aggressive man-to-man coverage. The Fighting Illini spent most of the evening in a tough man to man during their match-up against the Boilers on Thursday evening in Mackey Arena. Predictably, the Old Gold and Black struggled in response, resulting in a frustrating evening for the players and their fans.
Things started out well enough. The Boilers hit the ground running and were able to reel off 6 straight points before the Illini had figured out what hit them. Then the visitors regrouped and began hitting their shots while disrupting the home team. At the 14:00 minute mark two Bjork free throws tied the game up at 8-all. Points were extremely hard to come by for the remainder of the half, as the Boilers were able to only add 4 points over the following 6 minutes. A pattern appeared in which the Boilers would struggle and fail to score until the Illini had pulled into a tie. Then Purdue would buckle down and hit a basket or two to stretch the lead out. At that point they resumed their shaky play and allowed Illinois back into the game once again. The Boilers settled down in the final minutes and were able to stretch the lead to 6 points – they went into the locker room ahead 25-19.
The Illini weren’t about to roll over, however, and they managed to make up the deficit at the start of the second half. A jumper by Lacey Simpson with 4 and a half minutes elapsed gave the visitors their first lead, 29-30. Katie Gearlds answered with a triple to put the Boilers back on top by 2. The lead see-sawed for the next 7 minutes with either Katie or Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton answering the bell of the Boilers on most possessions. The last Illinois lead occurred with 8:47 left to play. The Boilers were clinging to a 3 point lead several minutes later when Jodi Howell connected on her only basket of the night to push the Boilers up by 6, 50-44. A buzzer beating three pointer by Erin Lawless at the 1:47 mark added the final nail to the Illini coffin. The visitors fouled to stop the clock in the final minute. Purdue hit its free throws, making the final margin of 12 points extremely deceptive. The final score was 69-57
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game
The classic way to beat “in your face” man to man pressure is to run back door plays that turn the defender’s over aggressive play into a weakness. The Boilers made numerous attempts to run back doors, but in most instances the timing was off and the plays did not work. The Old Gold and Black are sure to get ample opportunity to perfect their ability to play against man to man coverage as they are sure to see a great deal of it in the future. Overall the Boilers shot a tepid 38% from the floor including 25% from the behind the arc.
The Boilers did a superb job of getting out into passing lanes and harassing the Illini players as they were bringing the ball up the court. This resulted in a total of 13 steals on the game, including 8 by FahKara Malone. FahKara set the Purdue single game freshman record, and can be credited for keeping the visitors rattled. If the ball made it to half court the Illini did a pretty good job of shooting, and made 41% of their attempts on the evening.
Boxing out has been a major point of emphasis in practices. On Thursday the Boilers were able to demonstrate what they had learned in those sessions. The Illini are one of the better rebounding teams in the Big 10 this year, but Purdue was able to grab one more board to lead in this department 37-38. Katie Gearlds led all players with 12 caroms.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Boilers became more aggressive attacking the basket in the second half, and this was reflected in their free throw shooting statistics. After missing both attempts from the stripe in the first half, the Boilers attempted 19 in the second stanza. They connected on 16 for a game total of 76%. FahKara Malone and Lakisha Freeman were both perfect from the charity line.
The Boilers looked ragged all night, stifled by the Illini pressure and their own poor shooting. There was a great deal more standing around that one typically sees and the team was visible frustrated at times. Defense kept the team in it until the Boilers found their stroke as the game was winding down. In total the team had 14 assists to 11 turnovers.
Katie Gearlds stepped up and took over the game when the Boilers needed her. She became increasingly willing to attack the hoop as the game wore on, and good things usually happened when she did. KG said after the game that she thought a great deal about grabbing weak-side rebounds. Here’s hoping she keeps them in mind in the future as well. On Thursday she tied her career mark with 12 boards. What was most encouraging was seeing Katie leading the team without apology. In an excellent outing, the senior recorded a total of 24 points (9-18, 3-8 3 pt.er, 3-6 FT), 12 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton is the Boilers’ most consistent player, and she had another fabulous game. She and Katie played the two man game to perfection, and each appears to know were the other is on the court by instinct. Lindsay finished the game with 199 blocks in her career, just one block shy of overtaking Camille Cooper for second place in on Purdue’s all-time list. Lindsay finished with 19 points (7-14, 5-7 FT), 6 rebounds, 1 assist, a steal and 3 blocked shots.
Erin Lawless won’t be putting this game in her memory book as she had a very rough outing. Her physical presence under the boards helped in the Boiler’s overall defensive intensity, but she didn’t do too much that dented the box score. Her only basket of the night was the biggest Purdue bucket of the game, however, as it sealed the deal for the Boilers. In all, Erin had 3 points (1-9, 1-3 3pt.er), 4 rebounds, 1 assist and a turnover.
Among the starting 5, Jodi Howell has the most trouble with strong defensive pressure. One gets the sense that she doesn’t trust her legs to hold up to banging or heavy contact. For whatever reason, Jodi struggled with her shot all night. Like Erin, she made her bucket count as it came at a very important juncture of the game. Jodi finished with 3 points (1-5, 1-5 3pt.er), 3 rebounds, and 2 turnovers.
FahKara Malone seems completely healed, as she’s regained her speed and the snap in her step that was missing when her knee was sore. She is a tough little cookie, as she was able to apply constant defensive pressure, step up and hit shots when the team needed them, and take the full on blast of Coach Versyp’s wrath on several occasions during time outs. The only thing FahKara struggled with was finishing her shots after her steals led to break away lay-ups. When she adds a pull-up jumper to her game, she’ll be much more difficult to stop. FahKara was the third Boiler in double figures with 14 points (4-11, 0-3 3pt.er, 6-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 8 steals to 2 turnovers.
KiKi Freeman continues to provide solid support for the team. She is credited with 3 assists, an indication of her ability to keep offensive flow going. She also scored 4 points (1-2, 2-2 FT) and recorded a steal to one turnover.
Danielle Campbell was pushed around a great deal, and she became somewhat frustrated as she attempted to handle the Illini pressure. As the game wore on she became better at shifting the defense with her speed. Danielle finished with 2 points (1-3), 4 boards, 2 assists and a steal to 2 turnovers.
Lauren Mioton saw the court for 2 minutes. In that time she took care of the ball and missed a three point shot attempt. Kalika France entered the game for a minute, but had little effect.
Sharon Versyp was not a happy camper for most of the game. She called numerous time outs, and in most of them she was right in her the faces of her players. Her general displeasure with their spotty performance appeared to have an effect, as the team’s play improved over the course of the contest. No doubt the coaching staff will be spending some time working on back door plays and improved screening techniques in the coming week.
Seeing the names Art Bomengen, Bryan Enterline, and Dennis Mayer together as officials is enough to give the most stoic fan goose bumps. Either each one had a career day or they cancelled each other out as the officiating was generally quite good.
An announced crowd of 7628 braved the sub-zero weather to watch the game. It was obvious that the crowd didn’t enjoy watching the Boilers struggle any more than their head coach did, and there was a definite feeling of unease when the Illini took the lead in the second half.
The Boilers are hitting the home stretch of Big 10 play with a 21-4 overall, 10-1 conference record. So much attention has been paid to the race for first and second place that it is easy to forget that Michigan State is nipping on Purdue’s heel in third. The Spartans will come into Mackey with a 9-2 conference record. This means that they can pull into a second place tie with the Boilers if the win on Sunday. Purdue will need to bring the same type of effort that allowed them to pull one out in East Lansing if they are to remain in sole possession of second place in the conference.
Game Ball: Katie Gearlds