It's been a rugged preseason schedule for the Purdue women, facing national powers, up-and-coming programs, and an intrastate rival all in the span of a few weeks; playing at a neutral site against the team's most visible "name" opponent, Vanderbilt, and playing on the road to a young top-15 squad in Notre Dame definitely tested the mettle of these women as the Big Ten season starts tonight in East Lansing, MI. And while there's been one constant throughout the preseason--Shereka Wright's intense, intelligent, and efficient play--there's been a number of questions answered by this year's squad as well. What follows is a list of individual players' stats during the preseason and games that should be savored and forgotten for each.
Lindsey Hicks: 12 games/12 starts, 23.2 minutes per game
Additional stats: 2.8/1 Assist/TO ratio
Coming into the season, no fan could have predicted what Lindsey Hicks could do as a full-time starter for the Boilermakers. Her first two seasons showed exceptional promise as she is remains one of the more gifted Boilermakers athletically, but there were those who wondered how confident she was with her own skills, me included. Well, wonder no more. Lindsey has proven herself to be one of the most versatile Boilermakers on the floor, with the ability to throw into the post from the top of the key, to nail a 3-point shot in the halfcourt set, and to attack the defensive boards. Her assist to turnover ratio is tops on the team and would top the conference if she had more assists.
Game to forget: In her first game as a starter, against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Lindsey's nervousness must have taken the best of her. Not only did she not score in the game, but she grabbed only one rebound from the power forward position. Not the most auspicious start to a career as a starter.
Game to savor: Lindsey's all around game really shone in the home game versus Tulane as she went 6-11 from the floor, including 2-2 from 3 point range, grabbed 7 rebounds, and assisted on two other baskets. Her 14 points in the game helped offset the loss of Shereka to early foul trouble and led the Boilers to a victory over a top squad with multiple NCAA appearances.
Beth Jones: 12 games/12 starts, 29.6 minutes per game
Additional stats: 24 steals, 30 3pt FG.
Beth Jones may have joined Lindsey as the Boilermaker that fans were most uncertain about. Beth's shooting has never been questioned, but her all-around game and quickness weren't exceptionally proven the past two years as a reserve. There's no need to question anymore, however, as Beth's shooting has remained strong this year, but she has proven herself to be a solid rebounding guard and passer. Perhaps most impressive is her defense as she has shut down a number of opponents--Boston College and Notre Dame shooting guards can attest to this--and picked off the 2nd highest number of steals on the team.
Game to forget: Boston College stymied Beth offensively, as she missed on all four of her 3pt attempts and scored only four points against the Eagles. With no rebounds or assists, this game might have been a complete throw away for Beth aside from her playing outstanding perimeter defense and picking off four steals.
Game to savor: There must be something in the Purdue lockerroom about picking up teammates during a game; Beth's play against Tulane helped the Boilers stave off a potential upset as she scored 15 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, handed out 4 assists, and was perfect from the free throw line.
Mary Jo Noon: 12 games/12 starts, 23.8 minutes per game
Additional stats: 12 blocked shots
Mary Jo Noon was one of three returning starters to the Purdue lineup this year, and there was mention that she might be one of the Big Ten's best centers. Things haven't been exactly wonderful this season for Mary Jo, however, as foul trouble has been an issue in a couple of games and she still seems tentative around the basket at times. Still, Mary Jo provides solid play in the middle and consistently draws double and triple teams from opponents.
Game to forget: Perhaps some of the onus for getting only two field goal attempts against Indiana should fall on the perimeter players not throwing her the ball when she was ready for it. Still, Mary Jo's overall effort against Indiana included only two rebounds, a block, and four total points while being outplayed by a freshman.
Game to savor: (tie) Mary Jo's efficiency increases when she plays against big-time opponents, and it's been proven this year as she dominated play against TCU's Sandora Irvin, going 8-10 from the field en route to scoring a season-high 23 points and grabbing nine rebounds, and going 5-8 against Vanderbilt's Chantelle Anderson in Arizona.
Erika Valek: 12 games/12 starts, 32.4 minutes per game.
Other statistics: 42 steals, 2.3/1 Assist/Turnover ratio
It's official: the knee is fine and Purdue fans can see what made Erika THE top point guard recruit in her class. I wondered how effective Erika would be as a floor leader this year, as she's had Katie Douglas and Kelly Komara being the primary ballhandler her first two years as a collegian. Clearly she's taken notes her first two years and has developed into one of the finest point guards in the nation, as her scoring and decision making have improved greatly.
Game to forget: The game in the Thunderdome against Santa Barbara was the only loss for the Boilermakers to date and is probably the game most would want to forget. Erika would probably go further and insist the game never be mentioned to her again as she went 2-14 from the field and made only 1 of 4 3pt attempts in the 1 point OT loss.
Game to savor: (3-way tie) So you're a big-time program that wants to play Purdue? Best to be wary of Ms. Valek as she's done a great job against Purdue's three most "storied" opponents: 23 points and 6 assists against Ashley McElhiney and Vanderbilt; 23 points, 8-8 FT, 6 steals versus Tulane; 15 points, 6 steals, 6 assists, and 0 turnovers at Notre Dame on national TV, including 3 key 3pt shots.
Shereka Wright: 12 games/12 starts, 32.6 minutes per game
Additional stats: 18 steals, 10 blocks, one double-double
First team All-Big Ten as a sophomore, Kodak All-American candidate, an intelligent player with amazing heart and stunning quickness. Forget what the national press does or doesn't say about Shereka, Boilermaker fans should take time to enjoy this talented and special young woman for her last year and a half in West Lafayette.
Game to forget: Two fouls early against Tulane limited what Shereka could do offensively against the Green Wave as she ended the game with only 8 points. Her four assists, however, proved that Shereka can influence a game without having to be the leading scorer.
Game to savor: She went to high school in Texas and her parents currently live in St. Louis, so Shereka may not have had as large a grasp of the Purdue/IU rivalry as other Boilermaker players. You can bet she does now as she scored almost half of Purdue's points in the 53-51 victory in Indianapolis. Her offensive efficiency may not have been better this preseason as she connected on 10 of 17 field goals and 6 of 7 free throws, many of them clutch points to get the Boilermakers the lead at the end of the game. While other teammates picked up their games when she struggled against Tulane, Shereka picked up the entire team as they struggled against the Hoosiers. Her box score of 26 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals doesn't come close to showing what she provided for the Boilermakers that night.
The reserves on the Boilermaker squad have had a tough go at it this year, with all but one being freshmen and new to collegiate competition. Rather than giving games to savor and forget for the freshmen, here are key impressions about each:
Carol Duncan: six rebounds at Notre Dame, 5 in the first half when Mary Jo was limited with foul trouble; 10 points against Savannah State, making it the only time a freshman has gone in double figures for the Boilermakers this year.
Brianna Howard: four points and two steals against Savannah State and one of the most confident, pleasant young women I've ever talked to in the post-game ice cream social hosted by the Boiler NETwork.
Sabrina Keys: two points and a key block against Vanderbilt, providing some rest to Mary Jo; four points and two rebounds against Boston College.
Ashley Mays: four points, five rebounds, two assists, and two blocks against Savannah State and a hint at what Purdue will miss the rest of this season as she is academically ineligible for the 2nd semester.
Missy Taylor: six rebounds against Vanderbilt; nine points, five rebounds, and two steals against Savannah State and a nice-looking 3pt shot.
Sharika Webb: showtime passes against Savannah State that yielded six assists; aggressiveness against Notre Dame to score 8 points, including a key 3pt shot on the road.
Emily Heikes, the only experienced non-starter for Boilermakers, has been outstanding coming off the bench to provide key rebounds, aggressiveness, and sheer determination for the Boilermakers. Whether it's grabbing 11 rebounds against Santa Barbara when both Noon and Keys fouled out, scoring 10 points and grabbing 3 rebounds against taller Notre Dame players, or coming back immediately to the floor after getting a bloody nose earlier in the season, Emily has proved herself to be a total team player willing to do anything for the victory.
With all the statistics and opinions that line this column, the most important statistic for the Boilermaker squad is based completely in fact: an 11-1 record against a tough schedule, heading into Big Ten play.
Thanks to Purduesports.com for the individual stats for the players and Bigten.org for the conference leaders in each statistical category.