© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
The Purdue Boilermakers began the 2008-2009 season with a national ranking and sky-high expectations. On paper the team looked like it had all the pieces for a storybook year. Then they started playing games and reality hit hard. When the team actually got on the court, they looked average at best. The Old Gold and Black lurched from periods of decent play to long stretches of dismal basketball. They only managed an 8-5 record as they fell like a stone out of the Top 25. The final straw was the loss of FahKara Malone, their three year starter at the point. FahKara suffered a horrific injury at the end of dismal loss against MSU. Immediately after the loss of FahKara, the question remaining was whether this team hit bottom, or could they sink even further. It was felt that perhaps over time the squad would adjust and salvage a decent season, but one was as likely to see Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma swap spit on the Kiss-Cam as to see Purdue pull itself together in time to compete against #4 Texas 4 days later.
In those 4 days, however, finally – miraculously - the team grew up. Led by their 5 seniors, the Boilers decided to put on their big girl panties, suck it up, and play. From the opening tip, the Boilers played hard with a focus that had not been previously seen. Led by Lindsay, Danielle, and Kiki, the home team competed for every rebound, dived for every loose ball, and ran Versyp’s signature zone defense to a T. And, wonder of wonder, good things happened. No, let’s take that back. Great things happened. The Boilers absolutely owned the Longhorns. To give a flavor of the Boiler’s dominance, the first rebound credited to a Texas player took place with 14:28 remaining in the first half. The Boilers played like the Top 10 team they had been on paper – disruptive on defense, dominating on the boards, and with a host of players who took and made clutch shots. Perhaps the sequence that best illustrates this new found level of play occurred when Brittany Rayburn stepped into a passing lane and went in for a break away lay-up. She avoided a Texan player with a nifty 360 degree spin move before sinking the shot. This from a team that had trouble finishing 3 on 1 breaks earlier in the year. Before you could say “Valpo who?” the Boilers had raced out to a 23 point lead. In the final 5 minutes of the half the Boilers became visibly winded. This resulted in missed shots and increasingly tentative play. Texas made up a little ground, but Purdue’s excellent defense prevented them from the visitors from the Lone Star State from mounting a big run. The Boilers went into the locker room up by 17, 36-19,
One of the unintended consequences of Purdue’s inconsistent play this year is that no lead feels safe. The 17 point lead felt like 4, and the crowd stayed engaged and in the game the entire time. The team passed its first hurdle when Kiki Freeman scored the first points of the half, at least the visitors wouldn’t peel off 15 quick points to get back into the game. The team’s next challenge was to survive the full court press and traps that Texas began to run in earnest. The Boilers were extremely well prepared, however, and ran their press break successfully more times than not. Texas continued to get beat in the paint, giving Purdue multiple opportunities to score on either offensive put backs or by getting fouled. The advantage in the paint allowed the Old Gold and Black was able to maintain a double digit lead for most of the half. With a bit more than nine minutes remaining, however, Texas hit two triples in short order to cut the Boiler lead to 9. The Mackey crowd held its breath; we had seen this movie too many times already. In past contests, this was the time when the Boilers went from cold to frigid to sub-zero and the other team was allowed back into the game. Not on Monday. The Boilers ramped up their defensive intensity and held the Longhorns to string of one-and-dones. Two minutes later Danielle Campbell sank two free throws to push the advantage to double digits, and a Brittany Rayburn three pointer shut the door on the Longhorns once more. As the half wore on, Purdue became increasingly comfortable breaking the press, and the icing on the cake was finding Natasha Bogdanova hanging out all by herself under the Purdue basket for some easy points. The final score was 66-55 in Purdue’s favor.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game
Purdue made 46% of their shot attempts including 43% from behind the arc. Unlike earlier games, the Boilers didn’t have to rely on making jump shots for all their points. Their ability to snare offensive rebounds gave them numerous second chances for put backs.
The Boilers spent most of the night in a 2-3 zone. This formation works particularly well against a team like the Longhorns – i.e. one that is full of talented athletes who are inexperienced, undisciplined, and not used to playing from behind. Time and again, an anxious Longhorn would opt to take the quick mid-range jumper rather than work the ball for a better shot. This resulted in a horrible 26% shooting percentage from the field in the first half, and 34% overall. As an additional bonus, because Texas never attempted to penetrate or challenge Purdue’s post players, they failed to draw fouls, leading to a significant free throw discrepancy.
Texas pulled down 34 rebounds to 33 for the Boilers. When one considers that the Longhorns ranked among the countries best rebounding teams, this represents a solid outing. It was obvious that a great deal of the practice time between Thursday and Monday was devoted to boxing out and rebounding technique as all the Boilers did an excellent job finding a body to front when a shot went up. Danielle led the way with 11.
Free Throw Shooting:
Purdue enjoyed a large advantage at the charity stripe, sinking 21 of 27 attempts for 77% versus 7 of 8 shooting for Texas. These numbers support the adage that the more aggressive team gets the calls. Danielle Campbell, Lauren Mioton, and Kiki Freeman were perfect from the line.
Texas is a pressing, trapping team, and they pressured the Boilers all night. Despite this, the Old Gold and Black committed only 15 turnovers on the evening. Once in the half court, the Boilers ran an effective offense which often resulted in a score. Overall, an excellent outing by the team.
Lauren Mioton’s nickname should be “Killdeer”. For those without an interest in ornithology, the Killdeer is the bird that distracts predators from its nest by flopping around pretending to have a broken wing. Seeing the “injured” bird, the hungry fox forgets about his future Killdeer omelet to chase what appears to be a sure meal. When the predator is lured far enough away, the bird stops the act and flies off. In a similar manner, one can watch Lauren bring the ball up the court and decide that she must be about the easiest person in the world to pick clean. Opposing coaches must think so, as they devote a lot of time and player effort towards forcing the savvy senior to cough up the ball. Yet, time and again, Lauren managed to get the ball up the court and into the right hands despite larger, more athletic players applying pressure. Lauren did more than fill in for FahKara, she played like she belonged on the court. The Boilers feed off her assurance and calming influence, and in this way she makes everyone else on the team better. Lauren didn’t record a huge line in the box score (in 28 minutes she netted 2 points (0-2, 0-1 3 pt.er, 2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal to 3 turnovers), but she stepped up to Monday’s challenge as much as any player on the court.
During a half time interview, Fever (and ex-Purdue) coach Lin Dunn stated that Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton has a “WNBA body” and that she’s generating a lot of interest at the professional level. She certainly helped herself on Monday as she exhibited her ability to play just about every facet of the game in a superior manner. Lindsay became Purdue’s fifth leading rebounder during the game, surpassing Camille Cooper. Her best play of the night might have been when she took the ball up the court on a two on two break, stopped at the free throw line and nailed the pull-up jumper. Lindsay finished with 10 points (5-8, 0-2 FT), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots, 2 steals, and 0 turnovers.
Danielle Campbell had what was easily her best game in a Purdue uniform. She was on the court for 38 minutes, and played hard and effectively for every one of them. Campbell did a good job of going right at her defenders, often earning a trip to the free throw line for her efforts. She didn’t force things, however, and was able to find open players when she was double or triple teamed. Dani was named co-Big Ten player of the week for her efforts, and deservedly so. In all, Danielle recorded 16 points (4-10, 8-8 FT), 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocked shots, and 2 steals to 1 turnover.
When the game began, it was Kiki Freeman who set the tone for the Boilers. Her efforts were particularly evident in the opening minutes as she crashed the boards hard for rebounds and took and hit her patented short-range jump shots. Kiki had All-American candidate Brittainey Raven to contend with, and she did a good job limiting the Texan star. As has been the case so often, Kiki blends in, doing what is needed without drawing too much attention to herself. At the end of the night, however, she emerges as one of Purdue’s top players. Kiki finished with 12 points (4-10, 4-4 FT), 2 rebounds, an assist and steal apiece to 3 turnovers.
When Jodi Howell attempted her lone shot attempt, it was evident that she had no push off her legs. A combination of Jodi’s sore limbs and Rayburn’s play held Howell to 8 minutes on the court. In that time she did pick up a rebound.
Brittany Rayburn had her national coming out party on Monday. There aren’t many better ways to announce yourself as one of the country’s best freshman than to score 19 points in a win against a top 5 opponent as it’s televised on ESPN. To top it off, her breakaway lay-up with spin move made the day’s clips on the web site’s women’s basketball page. A characteristic of a truly special player is that they play their best in the biggest games, and Brittany certainly demonstrated that she is capable of doing that. Her inability to score in Mackey became a distant memory as she confidently hit shots from everywhere on the court. Having a “go to” that can reliably make something good happen when she touches the ball has been one of Purdue’s deficiencies, and if the Attica native can fill that role the entire team will benefit. Rayburn also demonstrated that she can give as good as she gets when being pressured, and that she has the vision to find the open player – even when that player is waaaaay down at the other end of the court. In a phenomenal outing, Rayburn scored 19 points (5-10, 3-5 3 pt.er, 6-9 FT), 1 rebound, 3 assists, a block and 4 steals to 3 turnovers.
Natasha Bogdanova’s impact on the game was much greater than her 17 minutes playing time might suggest. When the starters were beginning to drag, Natasha would come in and pump up the volume to re-energize the team. She scored all her points by leaking out ahead of Texas’ press so that Rayburn could find her all alone under the Purdue basket. Nats finished with 5 points (2-4, 0-1 FT), 3 boards, and 2 turnovers.
Chantel Poston absolutely exudes positive energy, and she brought a great spark when she was on the court. She still needs to harness her enormous athletic potential, but it encouraging to see her improving every time out. Chantel scored her two points on an athletic drive to the basket, and also pulled down a rebound, and nabbed a steal to 1 turnover.
The coaches look pretty smart when the players do what they ask. The coaching staff should get a huge amount of credit for preparing the team. The Boilers handled the press without getting rattled, and it was evident that press breaking had been a point of emphasis in practice. The zone defense was just the ticket to frustrate the Longhorns on the offensive end. Versyp also did an excellent job with substitutions, pulling starters around time outs to maximize their recovery period. Credit should also go to Erin Lawless. The Boiler alumna returned to watch the game, and by all reports gave an extremely inspiring pre-game speech.
Purdue was whistled for 10 fewer personal fouls than their opponent. Perhaps it’s best to leave it at that.
The announced crowd of 8525 looked a bit thin, no doubt a combination of holding the game during winter break on a Monday night, and the fact that this was predicted to be an ugly Texas-sized blowout. The folks in the stands were there to support their team, and the place was loud and encouraging for the entire 40 minutes.
Up to this point, the 2008-2009 season has had more corners than a stop sign, but one hopes that the Boilers turned their final one on Monday. If they can use the win as a spring board to play with the effort and cohesion they evidenced against Texas, there isn’t another team in the Big10 that can touch them. We’ll get a chance to see if this elevated level of play has become the new norm when they take on Iowa in Mackey arena on Thursday.
Game Ball: The senior class – Danielle Campbell, Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, Lauren Mioton, Kiki Freeman, and Natasha Bogdanova