© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
A basketball season can be compared to a long trip. It starts the first day of practice, and the ultimate destination is post-season success such as a Final Four appearance. Ideally, every step along the way leads the team in that direction. The 2008-2009 edition of the Purdue Boilermakers are reaching the end of their journey as the season winds down. It was a journey with many more twists, turns, and dead ends than past Boilermaker teams have experienced. At times the team appeared to have lost its way, and many early games they were difficult to watch. As the saying goes, however, it’s not where you start it’s where you finish. The Old Gold and Black might have taken their sweet time getting there, but the team that made its final appearance in Mackey against the Michigan Wolverines looked every bit like the seasoned, senior-laden squad that had all the pieces to contest for the conference title and to play deep into March that they were. The Wolverines were the perfect opponent for senior night as they are not very good right now and thus unlikely to spoil a special night, but remain a team the Boilers very much wanted to beat. There is a little history between the teams. The Boilers were seeking to revenge their worst Big 10 loss from last year, a 72-36 pasting at Ann Arbor. Second year head coach Kevin Borseth makes them an easy team to dislike, as his escapades on the sidelines draw the ire of opposing fans. His previous post-game comments suggesting that FahKara was faking a direct hit to the face sealed the deal.
The official activities began with recognition of the Michigan seniors. Each received a red rose and a hand shake from Sharon Versyp. This tradition has only been around for a few years, but it is a wonderful touch. Any worry that the good will generated by the gesture would take the edge off the Boiler’s play was dispelled on the opening tip. The Boilermakers began the game playing tight defense and working efficiently on the offensive end. Every player played hard, but Danielle Campbell’s efforts stood out. She was a demon on the boards and went to the hoop with authority. The Wolverines were able to hang with the Boilers behind a string of three point shots. Throughout the first half the Boilers would extend the lead to 8 or 9 only to have the Wolverines reel them back in. With 4 minutes remaining in the first half the visitors pulled within 4, 25-21. Versyp had seen enough at that point and called a time out. The Boilers emerged from the time out more focused with better defensive balance. The Wolverines were held scoreless till the end of the half. The Boilers went into the locker room up by 13, 34-21.
Purdue began the second half the same way they ended the first, playing smart efficient offense and shut down defense. Most importantly, every Boiler on the court exerted a great deal of effort. They quickly put the game out of reach. At the 5:30 mark the Old Gold and Black was up by 24 points. This allowed the coaching staff to honor the seniors properly. First all five were put in and the seniors played for several minutes as a group. Fittingly, all five came out together to a standing ovation. The final score was 70-53. Following the game, the seniors and their families were honored in a moving ceremony. Each was given a framed copy of their jersey and had the opportunity to address the audience before Versyp spoke on behalf of the program.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
The Boilers shot 44% from the field, including 42% from behind the arc. Danielle and Lindsey took most of the shots, a result of the pound-the-ball-down-low strategy. When the posts weren’t getting the ball off a pass, they were grabbing “O” boards for a put back. The presence of Jodi Howell on the court kept the defense honest, giving others room to work inside the paint.
The Wolverines committed 18 turnovers of which 9 were credited as Purdue steals. The Maize and Blue was forced to take outside shots for most of the game, resulting in a 37% shooting mark.
The overall improvement the Boilers have demonstrated in the past 5 games has been most evident in the rebounding category. The Old Gold and Black pulled down 41 boards to 25 for Michigan, an incredible 16 carom advantage. Wisdom-Hylton led the way with a game high 15 boards.
Free Throw Shooting:
Purdue connected on 11 of their 13 charity tosses for 85%. Jodi and FahKara were both perfect from the stripe.
The Boilers have matured into a smart team that takes care of the ball, makes good decisions, and runs their offense efficiently. Part of this improvement can be traced to FahKara’s return at the point, although every player is contributing. As a team, the Old Gold and Black recorded 18 assists to 14 turnovers.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton is a very intimidating presence. The Wolverine players, including their 6’6” wide-body Krista Phillips, refused to challenge her directly. When they did, she’d be there to swat away their shots. Offensively, Lindsay used her superior speed to snake by the Michigan posts to get to the rim. Lindsay finishes her Purdue career as one of the Boilermakers most versatile players (only Katie Douglas comes close to approaching her overall contributions on the court), and will go down in the record books as the top Boiler in blocked shots and rebounding. She has fought through the mental and physical aspects of returning from a devastating injury, and is currently playing the best basketball of her career. The Naperville native’s slow start on the season, combined with Purdue’s low national visibility, will probably mean that Lindsay won’t record many post-season honors, but she is playing better than many of the “names” that will be on the post-season lists. In another excellent outing, Lindsay recorded a double double with 13 points (6-13, 1-2 FT), 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocked shots, and 4 steals to 2 turnovers.
Danielle Campbell has officially come out of her slump. She played perhaps her best game in a Purdue uniform on Thursday. Throughout the game she was going to the hoop with authority, making her shots, and playing tough position defense. What is more, Danielle appeared to be comfortable and enjoying herself the entire time on the court. Campbell finished with 18 points (6-8, 6-7 FT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Jodi Howell shows a little more every time out. In the past, but her knees prevented her from being much more than a spot up shooter. Now that she keeps them loose throughout the game, Jodi can fake the outside shot and drive past her defender. She’s also increasingly willing to mix it up for rebounds and get out in transition. When Jodi’s lateral quickness improves, she will be an unstoppable defender as well. Currently Jodi leads the Big 10 in three point field goal percentage. Her ability to hit over half her three point attempts would put in second place in the NCAA if she were included in their statistics. A major reason for her high shooting percentage is Jodi’s excellent shot selection. Jodi never forces things up, and will not take a bad shot. The junior finished with 13 points (4-11, 3-7 3pt.er, 2-2 FT), 1 rebound, and 4 assists.
FahKara Malone’s time as an observer has done wonders for her game. Since her return from injury she is much more patient on offense. Because FahKara allows the plays to set up rather than force the ball to shooters too early, they are ready for them and more often than not take and make the shot. FahKara is taking fewer chances on defense, which means she has not gotten into foul trouble. In a solid evening’s work FahKara finished with 4 points (1-6, 0-1 3 pt.er, 2-2 FT), 1 rebound, 2 assists, a blocked shot and a steal to 2 turnovers.
Kiki Freeman had another of her trademark Steady Eddie performances. Kiki does an excellent job in letting the game come to her. When the short jumper is open she takes it - and usually hits - when it’s not she’ll get the ball to the right person. Defensively she did a good job shutting down Michigan’s wing players. In all, Kiki finished with 6 points (3-7), 4 rebounds, 3 assists to 4 turnovers.
If the NCAA kept statistics on the most colorful players, Natasha Bogdanova would lead the country. Natasha is a fierce competitor whose three point ability stretches defenses. It is Bog’s personality, however, that may be missed the most. From her colorful Russian or Rubbish segments to her outgoing personality, Natasha will always remain a fan favorite. Natasha worked hard during her time on the court, and put in a very good performance. She recorded 7 points (3-5, 1-2 3pt.er), 5 rebounds, and an assist.
Brittany Rayburn can get ahead of herself, and her turnovers were the result of her attempts to push the ball too quickly. She continues to contribute in all facets of the game when she’s on the court. Her triple in transition was a thing of beauty. The Attica native finished with 3 points (1-4, 1-2 3 pt.er), an assist and a steal to 2 turnovers.
Chantel Poston appears to be one of those players that improves the longer she’s on the court. As was the case in some previous games, after several minutes on the floor she settles down and her shot starts falling. Count Michigan as the next team to be shocked by Chantel’s ability to get up for rebounds and to elevate for jump shots. In an excellent 11 minutes, Chantel recorded 6 points (3-5), and 3 rebounds.
Lauren Mioton joined her fellow seniors for an emotional final farewell. She failed to connect on either of her shot attempts.
Laura Garriga and Alex Guyton played the final 2 minutes of the game after the seniors left the court. In that amount of time Alex managed to pull down 3 rebounds.
Sharon Versyp is not a demonstrative person, and she maintains her coach’s poker face most of the time she’s on the sidelines. This year’s seniors hold a special place in Sharon Versyp’s heart, however, and her emotions came through when she described the 5 players.
The officials were invisible in a good way – calling the game evenly and making most of the calls the audience expected.
Question to the Gold and Black Sound: What’s with the cello? In the middle of the heavy percussion and brass is a lone guy playing the cello. There’s got to be a story there.
The vast majority of the 8588 in attendance remained to recognize the seniors. Lauren Mioton even had her own cheering section in the top balcony – they’d hold up their own placards spelling out their admiration for the senior from New Orleans.
Purdue’s place within the Big 10 is now set. Unless Penn State pulls off the upset of the century and beats Ohio State Purdue is assured a second place finish in the conference. If the Old Gold and Black can beat Michigan State they will hold second place outright. If they lose, they’ll share the place with the Spartans and drop to the third seed in the Big 10 tournament. Michigan State dropped some tough games of late and will be angry on Sunday. They will be a stern test for the improved Boilers.
Game Ball: The Senior Class. Thanks for everything. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, Danielle Campbell, Natasha Bogdanova, Lauren Mioton, and Kiki Freeman