© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
Before the season began, the Minnesota Golden Gophers had been predicted to finish neck and neck with the Boilermakers. They were picked to finish either third (coaches) or fourth (media) in the conference, while Purdue’s position was flipped at fourth (coaches) and third (media). The two teams’ fortunes have diverged a great deal since those heady days of October. The Gophers played like team in the top half Big 10 is supposed to play; coming into the game Monday evening at Mackey arena with a solid 8-4 record, including a win against Penn State in conference. Everyone reading this column knows how Purdue’s early season has gone. As a result, Purdue entered its first Big 10 home game with some of the lowest expectations in recent memory. Suffice it to say, the team’s assurances that 4 days off over Christmas would be just the ticket to turning around the season’s trajectory were met with a great deal of skepticism.
From the opening tip, however, the Boilers were sharp as tacks. They played as a cohesive unit, and demonstrated a focus that had been missing from earlier contests. The largest difference from earlier games was the huge reductions in turnovers. On Monday the team took care of the ball. Offensively, the team had trouble finding and hitting shots, but defensively they were exactly on target. The team took advantage of the Gopher’s suspect outside shooting, and packed into a zone defense. Any time the ball made it into the paint, a rapid double team prevented ball movement. The Gophers were completely stymied by this strategy. The Boilers slowly built up the points while Minnesota remained scoreless. The clock was at the 10:25 mark when a single free throw dented the scoring column and the score was 10-1 in the Old Gold and Black’s favor. Things never got any easier for the “0-fors” in the first stanza. The Boilers weren’t setting any offensive records either, but they were able to go into the locker room ahead by 11, 24-13. Thirteen points represented Minnesota’s all-time record low for scoring within a half.
The law of averages dictated that Minnesota would find the hoop a few more times in the second twenty minutes, and the visitors slowly ate into the lead. Unlike previous outings, however, the Boilers kept their heads despite the narrowing point margin. By the 13:40 mark, the Gophers had trimmed the deficit to 4 points, 29-25. The home crowd was becoming increasingly agitated – we had seen this movie too many times before. Back to back baskets by Brittany Rayburn and KK Houser pushed the lead up to 8, 33-25. The Old Gold and Black continued to pull away – extending their advantage to 15 points at the 3:33 mark. In the final minutes the Gophers began to foul. The Boilers connected on 5 of 8 attempts – which was more than enough to maintain a healthy advantage down the stretch. The final score was 51-43.
Comments on specific aspects of the game
This was not an offensive show case. Rather, this was a Big 10 special with grind it out play and physical defense. The Boilers managed only 35% shooting on the night, including 24% from behind the arc. The scoring load was shared evenly, with all but 2 players putting up points but only Jodi Howell hitting double figures.
Purdue completely shut down the Gopher attack. They did it through tough ball pressure, particularly by trapping the ball inside the arc or when a player got too close to the sideline. Like Purdue, Minnesota isn’t a great out side shooting team, and the Boilers packed the paint and dared them to win it from behind the arc. Minnesota could only muster 29% shooting, including 25% from downtown. They were held scoreless for a combined 18 minutes, committed 3 shot clock violations, and turned the ball over 22 times. All in all, a dominating exhibition by the defenders in Old Gold and Black.
Purdue did a much better job establishing position under the boards, yet still was out rebounded, 41-33. Chelsea Jones led the way for the Boilers with 8 boards.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Boilers shot a rather anemic 57% from the charity stripe. This is the one aspect of the game that is the most difficult to prepare for- players often hit dozens in a row in practice only to miss every one when the bright lights are on. One hopes that they continue to progress at the line as their focus and comfort improves overall. Jodi Howell was perfect from the line.
The most wonderful thing about watching the game Monday was the total absence of dumb turnovers committed by forcing passes into the post. Against Minnesota, the Boiler back court players just didn’t do it. As a result, the team only committed 15 turnovers on the night. While this may not sound like a number worth celebrating, it was 6 better than their year-to-date average of over 21 a game.
Sam Woods was noticeably more aggressive than in previous contests. For the first time this year she competed for rebounds and challenged offensive post players. One hopes she continues to improve. Sam finished with 3 points (1-4, 1-3 3 pt.er), 5 boards, an assist and 3 blocked shots to 4 turnovers.
Chelsea Jones had her best game as a Boiler by a very large margin. She stated after the game that she felt comfortable banging away against other big bodies. Whatever the reason, she played with much more confidence than she evidenced earlier. Chelsea was able to move rapidly to double down or players or close off angles to the basket. The sophomore still doesn’t look for her shot as a primary option, but things are definitely looking up at the center position. Jones recorded a total of 7 points (3-4, 1-2), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a blocked shot.
Jodi Howell credited her father with an assist. By her account, his extra work with her over the holidays improved her shot. Jodi’s extra bit of offense was the difference maker on Monday. Jodi’s father didn’t come up when discussing her other contributions, but the senior handled the ball and passed as well as she has her entire career. In all, Howell had a team-high 13 points (3-9, 3-8 3 pt.er, 4-4 FT), 1 rebound, and a steal to 3 turnovers.
FahKara Malone played an extremely intelligent game. She pressured the ball handler without fouling, didn’t get rattled when she got heavily pressured herself, and took care of the ball. One hopes her scoring will begin to improve to reach the same height as other aspects of her game. FahKara recorded 7 points (3-8, 0-2 3 pt.er, 1-5 FT), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals to 2 turnovers.
Brittany Rayburn appeared to be forcing things at the start of the game. This resulted in some off-balance shots that failed to connect and several turnovers. As she settled down and let the game come to her, the sophomore’s level of play improved. Rayburn’s three point basket to extend Purdue’s lead in the second half was perhaps the most important shot of the season. It gave the team the momentum they needed to finally persevere and close out a tough game. Brittany finished the night with 8 points (3-12, 1-6 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 1 rebound, 2 assists and a steal to 4 turnovers.
KK Houser shows a little more confidence each time she gets on the court. Houser ran the offense extremely well when she was on the floor. She had the ball in her hands when Minnesota began fouling, and she took advantage by hitting most of her freebies from the line. In all, KK recorded 7 points (1-3, 0-2 3 pt.er, 5-6 FT), 2 rebounds, and 2 assists to 1 turnover.
Sam Ostarello is getting some attention outside of West Lafayette. She’s hard to ignore as she plays with a confidence well above her years. Sam’s largest strength at this time is her rebounding, as she again had a very strong outing in this department. Sam is also an excellent passer and a good shooter. Sam finished with 4 points (2-7, 0-1 3 pt.er), 5 rebounds, 1 turnover and 2 blocked shots in 15 minutes play.
Alex Guyton played for 9 minutes. She looked quite comfortable on the court although there is still no word whether she’ll continue to play this season. Alex scored her 2 points a very nice move to the basket and blocked 1 shot.
Ashley Wilson might be the official “doesn’t show up in the box score” player for the Boilers. She played extremely tough defense and used her strength to pull down 4 boards in 8 minutes of play. Ashley also picked up 3 fouls in that time, something that might have limited her minutes.
Laura Garriga stars in this year’s half time feature- “Laura’s Lyrics”. It’s a great way to show off her bubbly personality. On the court she played with her usual hard- nosed style and was able to dish out an assist.
The team was extremely well prepared for the Minnesota Gophers, and all credit needs to go to the coaching staff. It will be interesting to see if the team can maintain the high level of play they demonstrated on Monday on a consistent basis.
The officials appear to be earning a commission on traveling violations. It is certainly a point of emphasis this season, with many, many more called per game than in previous years. Any head fake or spin move is sure to attract a whistle. While it’s nice to see that players aren’t given a few extra steps on their way to the basket, as it is currently called the huge number of infractions seriously disrupts the flow of the game.
The circle of dancing tubas did not make an appearance before Monday’s game. The Boilers win by playing at a previously unseen level of intensity and execution. Coincidence? You be the judge.
There were considerably fewer people on the benches than the announced number of 8812, but those that were there were loud in their encouragement. Four members of last year’s senior class – Bogs, Lauren, Danielle, and Lindsay were in the house as well. It was great to see the familiar faces again.
With the win the Boilers returned to the .500 mark, both for the season and in the conference. They must try to repeat themselves on Thursday against an improved Indiana team. The Hoosiers will be a tougher out than the Gophers – they shoot the ball much better and they did not play on Monday. This allows them an extended time to o rest and prepare. The Boilers have finally demonstrated, however, that when they play well they are a match for other Big 10 teams, and should be able to give the Hoosiers more than they can handle in Mackey.
Game Ball: Chelsea Jones