© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
In the weeks leading up to the 2008-2009 season, Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp spoke of her desire to see an aggressive, pressing, trapping team. Using the Tennessee Lady Volunteers up as an example, the Boilers were going to pressure the ball every second of every game. Purdue are in a position to do this because, unlike last season, they are extremely deep and much more athletic. The Boilers have had three opportunities to demonstrate their new look. Against IUPUI, however, the Boilers looked very much like last year’s team. They rarely pressed, using their tried and true zone defense to beat the Jaguars. Although Versyp did empty her bench before the game was over, the starters saw extended playing time.
Against Portland and Oakland, the Boilers played as advertised. They attempted to press and ran a variety of traps throughout the night. Players shuttled in and out on a regular basis, with 8 and 9 players seeing double digit minutes. As one might expect when Purdue plays a team selected to finish next to last in the Big West Conference or anywhere in the Summit Conference, the Boilers won both contests easily. With the outcome assured, Versyp was free to use the games as learning exercise – evaluating match-ups, player combinations, and plays. The results were mixed, but overall the team that played the second half of the Oakland game was a far better unit than the one that tipped off against IUPUI.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Purdue offensive is run through the post. On most possessions, the ball goes to the high post. There, the offensive player has the option of either taking it to the hole, passing down to the low block, or sending it back to the perimeter. This year, the perimeter shot must be respected, as the Boilers have multiple outside threats. This, in turn, pulls defenders outside the paint, making it much easier for the posts to go to work. The experience of the team is evident, as the Old Gold and Black rarely forced things, but rather worked to generate shots within the flow of the offense. Perhaps as a result, the Boilers shot over 40% from the field in both contests.
Suffice it to say that the Boilermaker press is not yet likely to strike fear in the hearts of our opponents. There were some successful traps, but in many instances the defenders appeared unsure as to where they should be going. What the Boilers have going for them is a sticky, match-up zone and solid man to man. Malone, Freeman, Rayburn, and Poston have the speed to stay in front of defenders, limiting looks. The Boilers’ opponents generated a total of 39 turnovers in their previous 2 games.
Purdue should pull down more rebounds than a team that is both shorter and less athletic than themselves. Sad to say, in previous years this has not always been the case. Not so this season. The rebounding advantage the Old Gold and Black has enjoyed in their past outing was extraordinary – 53-28. The Boilers even have a rebounding specialist – Natasha Bogdanova has dedicated herself to grabbing boards, and has made an immediate impact every time she enters the game. It is unrealistic to expect Purdue to do as well against teams that match up better than Portland or Oakland, but their attention to positioning and efforts in this aspect of the game should allow them to retain rebounding as a strength.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Boilers work on free throw shooting every practice – whether they make 75% or 33% of them. Go figure.
The Boilers have been more fluid and in control every half of every game. Malone is maturing into an excellent point guard, and combined with Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton the team generally does the smart thing. It must be remembered that this is Versyp’s third year as head coach, and the first year that every team member isn’t in learning mode. Now that most of the team knows the plays, it allows the newcomers to find their places much more quickly.
Lindsey Wisdom-Hylton is playing herself into game shape. Any step back from her junior season hasn’t been obvious on the offensive end. It appears as if she can score any time she touches the ball. Lindsay’s shot selection and decision making is second to none. There are still a few bumps on the defensive end, however. Luckily for the Boilermakers, when Lindsay is a step slow, she’s still one of the best defenders in the conference. Lindsay’s been visibly winded after spending long periods of time on the court, and isn’t as quick to get out on perimeter shooters. Her quick hands are very much in force against Oakland, and Lindsay was credited with 5 steals for her efforts.
Danielle Campbell was the slowest starting Boiler. Perhaps this is because opponents have used last year’s tape to scout the Boilers and see Danielle as our primary offensive threat. In the first contests she looked awkward and out of synch with her teammates. By the final contest, however, Danielle had found her groove.
There are Faberge eggs treated with less care than Jodi Howell. Her minutes are strictly controlled, and all of Mackey Arena holds its breath when she leaves the perimeter to take charges or grab rebounds. If Jodi had enjoyed an injury-free career, she would undoubtedly be a much more complete player at this point, one who would take it to the rack and dish out assists. Jodi has another year to expand her repertoire, even so, there’s not overstating how important it is to have her on the floor. Jodi is able to catch and shoot the three with a speed and accuracy that is unique in the college game. Unlike other long threats, Jodi gets her shot off so quickly defenders can’t sag off her at any time, keeping the paint clear in the process.
Kiki Freeman was thrust into a starring role last year. Now that she has a stronger supporting cast, Kiki appears very content to sit back and allow others to grab the spotlight. She (along with Lindsay and Danielle) were the recipient of Versyp’s wrath after the Portland game due to her lackadaisical play. Kiki responded by forcing things against Oakland, although she could not buy a basket. Because Purdue has less depth at the wing than any other position, Purdue will need Kiki to find a new balance this year. She doesn’t need to become a one-woman wrecking crew, but she can’t disappear either. Freeman is a very savvy player, she’s sure to figure things out soon.
FahKara Malone is having an All-American caliber season. Her line to date is eye-popping, a result of her improved decision making and shooting. There has been a lot of “yes, but…blah blah blah” discrediting her accomplishments on women’s basketball boards. Most of those who are saying this are doing so because they remember early years’ struggles. Our little point guard is all grown up, and this season will be her coming out party.
Natasha Bogdanova has embraced her role a spark off the bench and rebounding specialist. She has had better lines in previous outings, but may have played the best game of her career against Oakland. Throughout the contest, Natasha remained in control, did not commit silly fouls, and made good decisions with the ball. Bogs could be the Boiler’s secret weapon this year.
Brittany Rayburn plays like a natural point guard although she currently backs up the shooting guard position. Rayburn looks extremely comfortable bringing the ball up the court and initiating the offense. She has excellent court vision and can deliver laser-accurate passes. Having an “extra” ball handler on the court is only a good thing. Rayburn’s defense is quite good for a freshman, the reason she’s seen extended minutes. Ironically, the only part of her game that is lacking right now is her shooting. One only hopes that she doesn’t get spooked and stop taking shots when she gets good open looks. No doubt the shots will fall once Brittany becomes more comfortable with the college game.
Michelle Clark played for 5 minutes in the Oakland game; she did not leave the bench against Portland. Despite these limited minutes, it is clear that Michelle has improved a huge amount over the summer. Her three pointer made at the end of the game elicited the loudest cheer of the night.
Chelsea Jones is low on the depth chart, and there will probably be several games that she does not leave the bench. She will use this year to get adjusted to the college game. Chelsea’s up side is enormous, as she’s a large presence who can’t get pushed around on the low block. She has excellent hands and a soft shooting touch, and will be a big contributor in the future.
Alex Guyton has yet to miss a shot from the field in a Purdue uniform. A good part of this success is due to shot selection. Alex is a good passer, and is quick to give up the rock to players in better position. It is Alex’s defense that is most impressive. Post defense is difficult for freshmen to master, but Alex rarely makes a mistake. There were several times she single handedly prevented dribble penetration by backcourt players. The future is extremely bright for the Bloomington native.
Before Chantel arrived on campus, Sharon Versyp stated that she was the most athletic person to wear a Purdue women’s basketball uniform. At the time it sounded like coach-speak hyperbole. After seeing her play, however, it’s hard not to agree. As a matter of fact, Chantel is SO athletically gifted it’s difficult to think of another Purdue player who comes even close. She has an unbelievable vertical lift, and can elevate in a microsecond with no run up or preparation. This makes her jump shot impossible to guard, and give Purdue a player who can create her own shot when the going gets tough. Poston uses her speed to get to the ball when rebounding, and can keep the quickest player in front of her. In one instance Poston took the ball to the hole with such speed the defenders had not responded before the shot went up. Needless to say, Poston’s potential is as high as her elevation.
Lauren Mioton’s minutes may be threatened if Michelle Clark continues to improve. If this were so it would be very understandable, Michelle represents the future, while Lauren is unlikely to improve in her final season. Lauren does everything right except score – her ability to miss wide open shots no matter how close to the basket she stands defies understanding.
Laura Garriga’s extended time on the floor was no doubt due to the large lead Purdue had built up before the final minutes. Having said that, Laura appeared comfortable, gave it her all, and made a positive contribution.
Samantha Woods has opted to redshirt this season to concentrate on her studies. The extra year gives time for the post to clear out, with the departure of Danielle, Kiki, and Lindsay. With Woods redshirt and Keshia Mosley’s suspension Purdue’s depth is this season is beginning to get a bit more shallow.
The one glaring problem evident in this year’s edition of the Boilermakers is a hold over from last year’s team. The squad continues to turn the ball over by making poorly conceived entry passes into the post. These poor passes are made by different perimeter players aimed at various post players. When every member of the team does something this consistently it begs some questions about the coaching. Is the coaching staff instructing the players to attempt these passes? If not, why do the players keep trying to force the ball through 2 or 3 defenders to a blanketed post player? And, most importantly, how does the coaching staff make the players stop this? If they could, Purdue’s turnovers per game would drop by half.
The attendance for early games can often be anemic. This year, the crowd appears to be in mid-season form. In addition to the game, the audience is treated to an excellent pep band and to on-court antics during the breaks that are fun without being distracting. The audience has been rather subdued up to this point, no doubt due to the lack of suspense that comes with easy wins.
The Boilers have improved a great deal over the first three games as the players learn to work together. This new unity will be tested in a big way when they travel to Hawaii to take on Stanford. It’s time for the Boilers to compete against a team that will test them. Win or lose, the next three games will stand the Old Gold and Black in good stead as the season progresses. This team has all the pieces to go a long way this year; it will be fun to watch the journey.