© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
The first game of the season is always a ragged affair. For all the scrimmages and exhibition games a team plays, thereís no substitute for the real thing, and it takes time for the players to shake the rust off and regain a level of comfort. This was the case on Sunday when the Purdue Boilermakers took on the Western Illinois Leathernecks at Mackey Arena. The first 10 minutes were, frankly, dysfunctional. To Coach Versypís credit, she didnít over react when the Leathernecks stuck first blood and scored the first two baskets of the game. Nor did she become too excited when the Leathernecks kept things close over the first ten minutes. Over the course of the first half the Boilers settled down and found their stride. In the process they slowly but surely took the lead and then extended it. They went into the locker room ahead by 13, 30-17.
The Boilers comfort zone extended into and throughout the second half. The team began hitting its three point shots, and dominating on the boards making their dominance complete. All available players saw action, and the teamís intensity and level of play was not affected no matter who was on the court. While Western Illinoisí level of play does not approach some of Purdueís future opponents, itís nice to see the team start out on the right foot. The final score was 70-37.
Comments on Specific Aspect of the Game:
The team shot 46% from the floor, including 50% in the second half. What was most noticeable was how the team played in a relaxed, coordinated manner. They looked like a squad that had been together for months. One could balance the fact that this was the Boilerís first game (which makes the offense execution particularly remarkable) against the relative defensive abilities of the Leathernecks (which should make the Boilers look like All-Stars) to arrive at the conclusion that the team looks surprisingly good as they begin the year.
The Boilers played man to man defense, taking advantage of their speed in the backcourt. Expect to see Purdue in this defensive scheme for the majority of the season as it suites the personnel very well.
Western Illinois committed 28 turnovers, of which 16 were credited as Purdue steals.
Although they won the battle 38-27, rebounding looks to be one of the Boilerís weaknesses. Freshman Sam Ostarello nabbed a game-high 12 caroms, and looks to be a force on the boards. Boxing out and securing the ball is very much a work in progress for the rest of the team.
The Boilers connected on 11 of their 22 free throw attempts for 50%. One hopes this was a result of nerves and first-game jitters and that they will improve over time.
One big advantage of having 4 guards on the court is that one can expect good decisions and accurate passing most of the time. By and large this was the case on Sunday. The team recorded 18 assist to 17 turnovers. Having a positive assist to turnover ratio is one of the statistics associated with a good team, and it is remarkable that the Boilers achieved this their first time out of the gate.
Chelsea Jones was disqualified after only 10 minutes of playing in the exhibition game. On Sunday, she played 34 minutes without committing a single infraction. Chelsea appeared a great deal more comfortable than a week earlier, and put in a solid performance. For the Boilers to succeed, they need the 6í4Ē sophomore to remain in games and clog up the middle defensively. On Sunday Jones appeared to be up to that task. Chelsea finished with 7 points (1-4, 5-8 FT), 9 rebounds, an assist and a block to 2 turnovers.
Jodi Howell is much more mobile than in previous years. This allows her to not just wait for passes behind the three point line, but to put the ball on the deck, step in front of passes for steals, and dish out assists. If her knees allow her to play at this level she adds a new dimension to the team that makes the Boilers much harder to stop. In a very complete game, Jodi recorded 15 points (6-10, 3-6 3 pt.er), 1 rebound, an assist and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
Brittany Rayburn is the teamís designated scorer, and she did not disappoint. When Brittany takes the ball to the hoop, she is able to slice through defenders and get the ball up with such ease that it appears as if she could do it every trip down the court. Sheís not just a scorer however, and makes her mark on all ends of the court. Rayburn recorded a career-high 23 points (9-19, 2-7 3 pt.er, 3-4 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots, and 4 steals to 3 turnovers.
FahKara Maloneís shooting touch has not yet arrived for the 2009-2010 season, but otherwise she was a force on the court. FahKara picked up two quick fouls be being too aggressive on defense, and will need to watch how physically she plays opposing players. Malone finished the afternoon with 1 point (0-7, 0-3 3pt.er, 1-4 FT), 2 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals to 2 turnovers.
KK Houser evidenced some first-game jitters, and had trouble making a contribution in the first half. In the second half she settled down. Her shots began to fall and she looked much more comfortable on the court. In an excellent outing she had 13 points (5-8, 2-5 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 1 rebound, 2 assists and 3 steals to 3 turnovers.
Like KK, Sam Ostarello appeared nervous and tentative in the first half. That didnít prevent her from rebounding like a champ. She has just the right combination of timing, arm length, and athleticism to grab and secure boards. In the second, Sam demonstrated her scoring and passing ability. In all, Sam had 6 points (3-5, 0-1, 0-2 FT), 12 rebounds, 5 assists, a block and a steal to 2 turnovers.
Purdue had not yet scored when Ashley Wilson was subbed in early in the first half. As if to show her team mates how it was done, she posted up on the low block, received an entry pass, and took it strong to the hoop. The power play seemed to be the key to allowing the other players to relax and play their games. Ashley started the second half; a reward for her heady play and effort in the first. Ashleyís is tough, big, and athletic, and her up side is near infinite. In 18 minutes she scored 5 points (2-2, 1-2 FT), 2 rebounds, and an assist to 2 turnovers.
Laura Garriga was used as part of the regular rotation, and competed hard during her time on the court. Laura did not score in her one attempt, but did pull down 2 rebounds and recorded a steal.
After the game, Coach Versyp was delighted by the teamís level of play, particularly on the defensive end. She has every right to feel that way, the team played as well as anyone had any reason to expect for the first time out.
The Boilers attempted 22 free throws while the Leathernecks took only two. While this seemed to reflect the respective aggression of the two teams, it did seem as if the referees where willing to let some very physical play by the Boilers go by without a whistle.
The announced crowd was 8710. The one thing the audience appreciates more than anything else is hustle and effort. For this reason, Ashley and SamO received some of the loudest cheers of the night. The band section appears to be about twice as large and in previous years, and much more diverse in terms of instruments played. In addition to the usual brass and drums, a cello and violin have found there way into the group. The band is responsible for a lot of noise even when they arenít playing, and their spirit is greatly appreciated.
Itís only one game against a Summit league opponent, so itís important that the Boiler nation doesnít get ahead of itself. But the level of play evidenced on Sunday was a quite a bit higher than anyone had reason to expect. The team already evidences solid chemistry, and has 3 exciting freshman who appear ready to contribute immediately. The teamís depth and resolve will be tested next weekend as they play 3 games in 3 days against much stiffer competition.
Game Ball: Brittany Rayburn