© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
Notre Dame Head coach Muffet McGraw has been around the block a time or two. One thing she surely understands is that basketball games are 40 minutes in length. In the first half of Saturday’s match up against Purdue she substituted liberally. Eight Irish players saw at least 7 minutes of action, and all but 1 Notre Dame player got on the court. In contrast, Purdue’s starters saw all but 15 of the available 100 minutes in the first half. Not that Purdue’s’ head coach Sharon Versyp had a lot of choice in the matter. Her strategy was to keep the pace of the game slow enough to keep her players fresh and hope they had something left in the tank when the Irish turned the screw in the second half.
At this point in the season, games are more about how the Boilers execute than their opponent. The results on Saturday were definitely a mixed bag. The Boilers had the talents of FahKara Malone, good news by any measure. She hadn’t practiced with the team earlier in the week, however, and the team’s tentative play reflected that they still don’t feel comfortable with each other. On the bright side, the team did a decent job hanging onto the ball and running plays. Kalika France played a wonderful half, and Natasha Bogdanova is finishing when she attacks the basket. The Boiler’s confidence grew over the first twenty minutes, and the home team led by 5 at the half, 25 – 20.
If the half time lead was the good news, the bad news was the second half. The second stanza began with the Boilers playing like a well oiled unit. Then a string of unforced turnovers broke the spell, and the Old Gold and Black reverted to their tentative selves. This resulted in running out the shot clock with aimless passing before chucking up a rushed shot. As the Irish came roaring back, the Boilers wavered and then collapsed. The Boilers started to foul, pushing up the final margin. When the game was over, Notre Dame had secured their first victory in Mackey arena as they won by 13 points.
Here are some more glass half full observations:
Unlike the rest of her teammates, Danielle Campbell improved as the game went on. In the final 10 minutes she finally, finally stopped passing up wide open shots and went to basket.
FahKara Malone was quite rusty, but at least she was on the court. Most of her turnovers occurred after she was fatigued in the second.
Sam Woods had her best game since season opener.
Versyp was coaching her hinny off. She had her charges in full “steal a game” mode, keeping the score low and the pace slow. It worked well for 30 minutes.
Now for glass half empty:
With the loss, Purdue is pretty much assured a losing pre-conference record. This, in turn, means that they team will have to improve dramatically and finish near the top of the Big 10 to return to the NCAA in March. They are certainly improving, but there is still a long way to go.
The entry pass from the top of the key to the low block does not appear to be an option for the Boilers. They committed turnovers 6 times when this was attempted. In contrast, the entry from the baseline was one of Purdue’s better plays.
Other teams have definitely scouted and prepared for the band singing when they are shooting free throws. This tactic didn’t faze the Irish at all. Perhaps the band should go to some other distractor.
Better days are ahead for Purdue, but it appears as if most of the enjoyment fans will derive from this season will not be measured in terms of wins and loses. Rather, it will be from measuring the Boiler’s improvement and effort.
Game Ball: Kalika France