© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
Athletes are an extremely skittish group. Most are more superstitious than a New Orleans voodoo princess, most players are absolutely obsessive in their rituals. Arriving later than usual to the arena, a new song played by the band, or eating a different pre-game snack are reasons held responsible for poor performances. Given these feelings, Versyp’s decision to throw all superstition out the window and cover Mackey in pink was absolutely radical. Being willing to make big changes for a good cause speaks to her character and common sense. And big changes there were. Sunday’s match-up between the Purdue Boilermakers and the University of Illinois was one of the most extraordinary examples of what happens when a team and a program take all the best things learned in sports and apply them to a larger purpose. The event was the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association sponsored Think Pink event to support breast cancer research. The team was dressed in pink – from their head bands to shoe laces. The audience reflected the color, with a large number of fans donning a rosy hue as well. The band got into the act, even the placards on press row were neon pink. The result was that the unique positive energy that occurs at women’s basketball games was increased 1000 fold, and it was a truly powerful atmosphere. All that was left was to see if the Boilers could play pretty in pink.
Despite the new pink uniforms, it was the same old Boilers that began the game. Their defensive intensity kept them close despite poor offensive execution and turnovers. They first cracked the score board with over 3 minutes elapsed when Kiki found the hoop to tie the game. Illinois is a two man team, forward Jenna Smith rules the boards while sharp shooter Lori Bjork punishes teams that sag into the middle. The Boilers did an excellent job of double teaming Smith, slowing her down if not stopping her. Bjork, meanwhile, stopped herself by picked up two quick fouls. The result was Purdue slowly extending a lead while Illinois struggled. With 7:33 minutes remaining the Boilers were up by 10, 24-14. Would this be the time that the Old Gold and Black could keep the air in the lead and cruise to an easy victory? Unfortunately, the answer was no. The Boilers burned 6 fouls attempting to slow down Smith, and she made hay on the line at the end of half. Behind her 13 first half points the Illini reeled in the Boilers, and had cut the lead to 2 points with 7 seconds remaining in the first. Kalika France took the ball and raced it down the court to score 2 quick points before the half ended. The score at the half was 29-25.
Things didn’t get any better when the second half started. The Boilers went into a zone defense, which allowed the Illini outside shooters to heat up. The visitors finally took their first lead with 5 minutes remaining. At the 14:32 mark Rebecca Harris hit an uncontested 3 point shot to put the Illini up by 3,and it appeared for all the world that the Boilers were going to let another game slip away. Versyp called a time out and called off the zone, switching back to an aggressive man to man defense. With the switch, the Boilers looked like a new team. They attacked the basket and had no trouble finding the mark. Purdue reeled off 14 straight points, going up by 11. Although the Illini eventually adjusted to the increased defensive pressure and began putting up point of their own, the Boilers never let up. Purdue played some of their best basketball of the year in the final 5 minutes, and won going away. The final score was 71-59.
Comments on specific aspects of the game
It was feast or famine for the Boilers on Sunday. In the first half they hit 34% of their attempts, and there were periods when they missed shot after shot. In the second half, however, they connected at an amazing 64% clip. Purdue isn’t a naturally high scoring team, and any time they can rack up over 70 points it’s a good day.
When Purdue remained in a pressing, trapping man to man they had a decided upper hand. They forced the Illini into committing 15 turnovers and into taking rushed shots.
At the end of the afternoon the Illini and Boilers were even in the rebounding department – 31 each. This was the summation of feast and famine on both ends, as the teams had periods of time when they blocked out aggressively and other times when they appeared to ceded the rebound to the other squad. Kiki Freeman led the Boilers with 7 caroms.
The Boilers made 60% of their free throw attempts, a figure that could certainly stand to improve. Kalika France, a player who began the year having a terrible time making her charity tosses, nailed all 6 of her attempts. Kiki was also perfect from the line.
The Old Gold and Black bore out what every team is told by every coach – attack the middle and good things will happen. When the Boilers increased the tempo and went to the rim they had excellent success. They finished with more assists than turnovers on the day, a feat that hardly looked possible a few weeks ago.
Natasha Bogdanova has a true shooter’s mentality. She didn’t let her early misses stop her from trying again. Her persistence paid off as she connected on three straight triples late in the game. The only negative was the 5 fouls the Russian picked up. If she can manage to play strong defensive without fouling she will become a true force. In all, Bogdanova scored 9 points (3-10, 3-7 3 pt.er), 5 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Kalika France is the player who has the most momentum. She is improving consistently, and finally appears very comfortable, both physically and with her teammates. If Kalika can maintain her “mo” it bodes very well for the Boilers. She had her best offensive performance as a Boilermaker with 18 points (6-13, 0-3 3 pt.er, 6-6 FT), 6 rebounds, and 7 assists.
Danielle Campbell’s play mirrored the entire team’s. She had great difficulty finding her stride in the first half. Danielle only attempted a single shot (which she missed) and scored a single point from the free throw line. In the second she was able to find the mark and contribute. Much of Danielle’s efforts were focused on stopping Jenna Smith, thus the majority of her contributions did not show up in the box score. Danielle ended up with 8 points (3-5, 2-5 FT), 2 rebounds, and 3 assists.
After a mini-slump, Kiki Freeman was back on form. Man to man suits her, as Kiki’s length and speed allows her to shut down virtually any wing player. She was able to beat the Illini down the court on multiple occasions, and regained her shooting touch in the half court. In an excellent all-around game, Kiki finished with a game-high 21 points (9-12, 0-1 3 pt.er, 3-3 FT), 7 rebounds, and 2 steals.
Like Kiki, FahKara Malone is regaining her earlier form. In FahKara’s case, it was back to the level of play she enjoyed before her concussions. FahKara led the team on the defensive end with her tight ball pressure and ran the offense efficiently as well. Malone looked to score just enough to keep the Illini honest, but is certainly a classic pass-first point guard. FahKara finished with 5 points (2-7, 1-4 3pt.er), 3 rebounds, and 7 assist.
Lauren Mioton put in 10 solid minutes in the back-up point guard role. Lauren spent time hanging around the weak side of the basket when shots went up, and was rewarded with 4 rebounds. She also leaked out during a broken Illini play and, after getting the outlet pass, was able to score the break away lay-up. If Lauren can find an offensive game she will make the team much much stronger.
Samantha Woods finally connected on a triple, a shot she is very capable of hitting. Sam needs to get stronger, as there were times she had troubles hanging onto the ball. Woods makes great decisions on the court, and shows a world of potential. In all, Sam scored 3 points (1-2, 1-1 3 pt.er, 0-1 FT).
Keisha Mosley’s most important contribution was wearing down Jenna Smith on the block. She was strong enough to establish her position and hold it. Keisha also has the strength to muscle up shots and block out anyone. In a very solid outing, the freshman had 5 points (2-4, 1-3 FT) and 3 rebounds.
Brittany Dildine gave 4 minutes of hard play. In that time she flew into a gaggle of Illini players and emerged with a key rebound. Laura Garriga saw 2 minutes at the end of the first half when virtually every other post player had picked up 2 fouls. Laura failed to dent the box score, but did a credible job on the block.
The original starting five took the court on Sunday. Either they were the five players who gave the most consistent effort in practice, or the policy that began for the Penn State game was thrown on the trash heap after it failed to produce the desired effect in the next contest. The most important move of the night was switching back to the man to man defense at the 14 minute mark of the second period.
The combination of Dennis Mayer, Bryan Enterline, and Ron Dressander is enough to give any coach cold sweats. True to form, there were several calls the crowd disagreed with loudly. Overall, however, it coulod have been much worse.
The announced crowd of 9,365 had a decidedly pink cast. The band and Gold Mine student section also was positively rosy. During half time, a large number of cancer survivors were honored. The audience’s enthusiastic support of the cancer research efforts made the atmosphere extremely special.
With the win the Boilers crawled out of the negative column and returned to .500 with a 10-10 mark. The Old Gold and Black also remained in second place in the league. Next, they hope to avenge their loss in Minneapolis when the take on the Gophers on Thursday. Minnesota is a very tough team, currently tied with Purdue in the standings. If the Boilers can regain their second half form on Thursday, however, they will be able to compete with anyone.
Game Ball: Kalika France