© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
One of the unanswered questions entering this year’s Big 10 season was why the coaches and media gave Wisconsin so much credit for Jolene Anderson while giving Minnesota so little for Emily Fox. Despite both players being named to pre-season All Big 10 teams, Minnesota was predicted to be either sixth or eighth versus Wisconsin’s second or third. Perhaps the reason was Minnesota’s head coach Pam Borton. She was rumored to be the reason for mass player defections, both in Minneapolis 2 years ago and at Vermont when she was head of that program. This has left Minnesota depleted and they currently use 3 sophomore starters. Perhaps Borton’s not easy to play for, but, as evidenced by a Final Four appearance, there’s no doubt she can coach. She has gotten a lot out of her young squad, and they entered the game boasting a 15-6 record.
Minnesota and Purdue began Thursday’s game in Mackey as two of the teams tied for second place in the Big 10. What is more, both teams knew that this contest was crucial if they had any hope of winning the conference outright. In most instances, important games are low scoring defensive slugfests. Nothing could have been further from the truth on Thursday, however. There was no defense to be seen when the game started. The Gophers cut straight to the basket making 3 uncontested shots. Purdue answered with some easy buckets of their own. By the first media time out the score was 10-8 in the visitor’s favor. Then both teams began to bear down on defense and the points became harder to come by. The Boilers slowly made up ground on the visitors, and took their first lead of the contest on a Kiki Freeman jumper with nine minutes remaining. The two teams played evenly for the remainder of the half. Minnesota had regained the lead with three minutes remaining, 26-25. The score stood until the final seconds. Then Danielle Campbell rebounded a Gopher miss and got the ball to Malone. FahKara raced up the court and was able to thread her way through 3 Minnesota post players and pop in a last second shot. The score going into the locker room was 27-26 in the home team’s favor.
The first time Minnesota and Purdue met, the Gophers won the game behind a big start to the second half. This time it was the Boilers who began the final stanza with a purpose. They were able to maintain a lead for most of the half. Unfortunately, they couldn’t pull away because their excellent shooting and defense was negated by poor free throw shooting and too many turnovers. The Gophers appeared frustrated and confused in many offensive sets while the Boilers were hustling to the ball. The Boilers largest lead of the game, 8 points, occurred at the ten minute mark. Then Minnesota regained some composure and found Knight and Ohm in positions to score. The Gophers slowly gained ground on the Old Gold and Black, and an Ohm triple tied the game with 1:31 remaining. Purdue took a time out to settle down. The next offensive possession didn’t seem to be going anywhere, but then Kalika France tossed the ball to Natasha Bogdanova as the shot clock ticked down. The Russian nailed a triple, giving the Boilers the lead for good. The Gophers went right down the court and scored to pull within one. The Boilers inbounded the ball with 34 seconds remaining. Initially they wanted Kiki to handle the ball, no doubt because she’s one of the Boilers most reliable free throw shooters. A near turnover put the kibosh on that plan, and it was FahKara Malone who was finally fouled with 24 seconds remaining. FahKara sank one of her two shots to push the lead back to 2 points. The Boilers played excellent deny defense in the final seconds, capped by Freeman getting her mitts on a pass and knocking the ball out of bounds. Only 1 second remained on the clock when the Maroon and Gold attempted to inbound the ball for a miracle shot. Their hopes were dashed when FahKara intercepted the inbounds pass to end the game. The final score was 56 -54 in Purdue’s favor.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the game:
Sometimes the shots fell and sometimes they did not, but at all times the Boilers attacked. They were much more successful when they played quickly, taking advantage of their superior speed on the open court. This resulted in a high shooting percentage, 43% for the game. More importantly, by pushing the tempo the Boilers were able to keep Minnesota out of their comfort zone.
The game was won on the defensive end. The Old Gold and Black played in a man to man all evening, paying particular attention to Emily Fox. Fox was held to 15 points below her average and failed to make a field goal. Purdue forced other players to try to beat them, and, to her credit, Leslie Knight almost did. The Gophers appeared less and less comfortable as the game wore on. In the second half they spent most of their time on offense standing around and getting frustrated. The Gophers committed 20 turnovers for which Purdue was credited with 13 steals.
One of the positives of playing in man to man is that it makes it easy to box out when rebounding. Between good positioning on defense and aggressive crashing the boards on offense, the Boilers decidedly won the rebounding battle, 33-24.
Free Throw Shooting:
If defense and rebounding won the game for the Boilers, then free throw shooting almost gave it away. After doing fairly well in the first half, Purdue only hit 5 of their 13 attempts in the second. The end result was 50% shooting from the charity line. No doubt this aspect of the game is going to be a major point of emphasis in the future. Danielle Campbell was perfect from the line.
The Boilers are still a work in progress when it comes to balancing their desire to play aggressively at a breakneck pace with maintaining control and not turning the ball over. Many of the 20 turnovers committed by the Old Gold and Black were the result of unreachable outlet passes. That is often the price a team plays for pushing the tempo. If the end result is positive, it is usually accepted by the coaches. Ironically, although the team is getting away from half court sets as it pushes the ball, the guards’ ability to make entry passes has improved of late.
Natasha Bogdanova once again saved her best for last. After missing 5 three point attempts over the course of the game, she nailed the one that mattered. Natasha’s defensive efforts and ability to grab rebounds were maintained at a high level all game, even if her shooting touch was not. In all, Natasha scored 6 points (2-8, 1-6 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 6 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and a steal. Perhaps the most remarkable box score entry for “Bogs” was the zero turnovers committed in 32 minutes play.
Danielle Campbell received recognition before the game for recording 100 blocked shots. Only 10 other Boilers have achieved this landmark. Campbell recorded her 100th block against Penn State, and has been adding to her total since. During the game she was the primary focus of the Gopher’s defensive efforts. It was Minnesota’s strategy to quindiple team Danielle on the block, daring the Boilers to make an outside shot. Danielle’s 5 turnovers are the result of her troubles passing out of the double and triple teams. As expected, things got much easier for the junior when her team mates helped out by making their outside shots. In all, Danielle scored 12 points (4-6, 4-4 FT), 8 rebounds, an assist as well as added 5 blocked shots to her growing tally.
Kiki Freeman regained her title as the team’s leading scorer against Illinois, and maintained her advantage over her teammates with a team-leading performance on Thursday. Kiki had another quietly complete game, pouring in points on the offensive end – everything from tough put backs from her O boards to a three point basket that was in rhythm and effortless. Freeman has the speed to beat her defenders down the court in transition and the length to block shots and stymie post players. In an excellent outing, Kiki recorded 17 points (7-9, 1-1 3 pt.er, 2-4 FT)7 boards, and 3 steals to 3 turnovers.
Kalika France is be a shooter who runs either hot or cold, and on Thursday she was decidedly chilly. Although her shot wasn’t dropping, Kalika played hard and used the most of her athletic talents on both ends of the court. Her made three pointer was taken at the end of a broken offensive set with the shot clock at 1 second. It provided a huge psychological boost and allowed the Boilers to keep the advantage. In all, Kalika recorded 6 points (2-9, 1-3 3pter. 1-2 FT), 5 boards, 3 assists and a steal to 5 turnovers.
FahKara Malone had perhaps the best game of her career as a Boiler, certainly her most impressive this year. She was aggressive on defense, using her quick hands to get steals and generally generate chaos without fouling. She became Emily Fox’s personal nemesis on several occasions she’d pluck the ball out of the junior’s hands mid-shot. Offensively she led fast breaks without trying to force situations that weren’t there. FahKara was also able to make shots, both the triples that a perimeter player just has to nail in order to open things up for the posts, and lucky scoop shots when getting fouled as she took it hard to the basket. Her only glaring weakness was at the line, and her free throw shooting must improve. FahKara finished with 15 points (6-14, 2-6 3 pt.er, 1-6 FT), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 6 steals to 5 turnovers.
Lauren Mioton has figured out this weak side rebounding thing. Now that Purdue has the reputation for getting the ball out and scoring in transition, other teams are hustling back on defense and sacrificing offensive rebounding in the mix. All Lauren needs to do is hang around under the basket to pick up the ball. Minnesota joins a long list of schools that has learned that despite her herky jerky dribbling style, Lauren is not an easy mark for a steal. Lauren did not score, missing on both her shot attempts, but did grab 3 rebounds and dish out an assist.
Keisha Mosley blocked a shot and committed a turnover in her 8 minutes on the court. She also did a good job working within the flow of the offense and defense. The only other player to see court time was Brittany Dildine. In her three minutes Dildine pestered Emily Fox, but failed to connect on her lone shot attempt.
Coach Versyp was thrilled after the game, stating that all players carried out the coach’s orders and remained focused. These sorts of statements always beg the question as to which players don’t typically focus or pay attention. Of course, coaches never divulge that side of the story. Versyp is known for playing a match up zone, but she’s done what all good coaches do- change as needed to take advantage of her team’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Nobody was happy with the officiating by the end of the game. Enough poor calls went both ways to get everyone’s goat. It must be said that the Boilers were the beneficiary of the most suspect calls of the night. In one sequence the shot clock reset while both teams were fighting to control of the ball, giving Purdue 30 additional seconds to work with. In the same set, the ball went over the half court line. Since Minnesota never had control of the ball, it would seem that an over and back call was indicated, but the officials didn’t see it that way.
The announced crowd was 8826, but a huge number of those holding tickets didn’t brave the dire predictions of winter storms. Perhaps a quarter of the regular number was in the stands. Those that did brave the elements were treated to one of the best games of the season.
Number one, baby! With Purdue’s win and Ohio State’s loss, the Boilers now are tied for first place in the conference with Iowa and the Buckeyes. What is more, they are currently playing at a level that should allow them to continue to compete for the conference title. They next take on Northwestern at in Evanston. This is a classical trap game, and the Old Gold and Black must be sure not to allow a let down.
Game Ball: FahKara Malone