© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
The contest between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Purdue Boilermakers in Mackey Arena on Monday was an illustration of the old adage; "Old age and guile beats youth and skill every time." The undefeated, number 6 ranked Notre Dame team doesn’t have a superstar or a bench full of McDonald’s All-Americans. What they have is 4 senior starters who are hard workers and have been through the wars. They had no seniors in 2008-2009, and were already talking about how much better they’d be this season last year. What this experience has brought them was knowing how to win; they take advantage of the other team’s errors, never panic or push, and capitalize on every opportunity.
The Boilers, on the other hand, are still a work in progress. They are still learning their own strengths and weaknesses – both individually and as a team. Their games against Minnesota and Indiana were huge improvements over the games played in early November, but the Irish were another thing all together. Many were expecting a melt-down, another thrashing at the hands of a better team.
The players and coaching staff had other ideas. Purdue came out prepared and ready. They were prepared for Notre Dame’s press and traps, and repeatedly took advantage of the mismatches and open shots when they got to the other side of the mid-court trap. The Boilers jumped out to a 12-5 lead by taking it to the hoop in this manner. The Old Gold and Black was able to maintain a 6 to 10 point lead for most of the half. Notre Dame finally was able to hit some of their shots to close the gap in the final three minutes, but went into the locker room down by 3, 39-36.
The Irish made some adjustments at half time. Most dramatically, they dropped the half court trap, going to straight man to man or zone. This took away Purdue’s easy lay-ups, forcing them to score in the half court. For most of the half, the two teams played toe to toe. The Irish regained their shooting touch to score relatively easily, particularly from behind the arc. Purdue found a way to answer the bell – often by unlikely players such as Sam Wood or Sam Ostarello hitting outside shots. The difference in the game was back to back Notre Dame three point baskets that turned a 62 tie into a 68-62 advantage with 5:41 remaining. Purdue didn’t fold up their tents however, and battled back. A Howell basket brought Purdue to within 1, 75-76 with 12 seconds remaining. The Old Gold and Black was forced to foul to regain possession. Notre Dame was able to hit enough of their free throws to seal the deal and emerged the victor. The final score was 79- 75 in the visitor’s favor.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game
Purdue shot a remarkable 55% from the floor in the first half. They came down to earth in the second a bit, but still shot 49% overall. The primary reason for this sky high success was the Old Gold and Black’s excellent shot selection. Time after time they’d find the open player, under the basket or all alone behind the arc.
Purdue played in a zone for most of the game. At times this meant that they had trouble getting out on three point shooters. The team did an excellent job preventing interior penetration and pressuring ball handlers as they were bringing the ball up the court.
Coming into the game, the Irish had a +7.8 rebounding differential against their opponents. The Boilers managed to pull down one more board, 37 to 36. The team did it by competing for every rebound and establishing excellent position. Rebounding is one of the areas that has changed most dramatically from earlier games.
Free Throw Shooting:
The free throw shooting, on the other hand, remains an issue for the team. They improved to 68% for the game, but they are still leaving way too many points on the line. Jodi Howell and Alex Guyton were both perfect from the stripe.
Notre Dame leads the country with an average of 15 steals per game. Purdue has had an issue with holding onto the ball. Despite these dire circumstances, the Boilers did an exceptional job taking care of the ball, they committed fewer turnovers than either their or the Irish’s average. The Boilers had an answer for every tactic the visitors threw at them. The only down spot, and in light of the overall performance it’s a quibble, is that the out of bounds play they tried to run from the end line was a lemon. It resulted in 2 turnovers and needs to go into the waste bin.
Samantha Woods found her stroke. She made several key baskets, many from long range with the shot clock winding down. Woods will force defenders out to the perimeter if she continues to score at this clip, which will open up driving and passing lanes for everyone else. In her best outing of the season, Sam recorded 12 points (5-8, 2-3 3pt.er) 2 rebounds, an assist and a turnover.
Chelsea Jones may look back at the Notre Dame game fondly as the last time she was single-teamed on the low block. Chelsea has found a comfort zone that allows her to post up, catch and score while under the basket. As often happens when a 6‘4” player is comfortable this close, she scored at a very efficient clip. In the future, teams will need to respect Chelsea’s ability to score, and will no doubt begin throwing more bodies at her. In another strong performance, Jones had 16 points (7-12, 2-4 FT), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 blocked shot to one turnover.
Jodi Howell has scored more points in many other games in a Purdue uniform, but she may have played her strongest all-around game against the Irish. Jodi did it all; putting the ball on the deck, hitting spot up three point shots, and dribble pull up jump shots. The red shirt senior also defended well, found her open team mates and took care of the ball. In all, Jodi had 18 points (5-9, 1-3 3 pt.er, 7-7 FT), 4 rebounds and 5 assists.
This is not a game that Brittany Rayburn will keep in her memory book. The sophomore was not herself, missing shots badly and making poor decisions with the ball. After the contest it was revealed that she had been ill. Here’s hoping she makes a rapid recovery. Rayburn finished with 5 points (2-7, 0-1 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 5 rebounds, and 1 assist to 6 turnovers.
FahKara Malone was the consummate point guard on Monday. She dictated tempo, brought the ball up the court against Notre Dame’s sticky zone defense, and scored when her team needed her to. Malone twisted her ankle midway through the second half and needed to be helped off the court. Luckily, the injury proved not to be too serious as she returned to the court before the end of the game. Malone ended up with 6 points (3-8, 0-2 3 pter) 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals to 2 turnovers.
Notre Dame seemed completely unprepared for KK Houser’s speed with the ball. Time and again she’d blow by her defenders, forcing them to foul. KK played in control and ran the team very well during her time on the court. In one of her better performances, KK had a total of 8 points (2-4, 4-7 FT), 3 rebounds and an assist to 2 turnovers.
Sam Ostarello made her first three point basket as a Boiler when she found herself behind the three point line and unguarded. Adding the outside shot makes her that much more of a force on the court, although her rebounding skills would dictate that she spend most of her time on the low block. Sam O held her own against the experienced Irish post players as she continues to improve. The South Dakota native finished with 7 points (2-5, 1-1 3 pt.er, 2-4 FT), 3 rebounds, an assist and a turnover.
Alex Guyton saw limited action as she works herself back into shape. She showed no ill effects as she got up and down the court very well. Her scoring came when she beat everyone down the court for an easy lay-up and one.
Ashley Wilson has faded into the back ground a bit. Part of this may be due to other teams scouting the freshman and no longer allowing her wide open lanes to the basket. Ashley remains a tough competitor who can use her quickness to get her hands on loose balls. Wilson finished with a rebound and 2 assists.
Sharon Versyp earned a golden whistle for her game plan and team preparation. The Boilers knew exactly how to attack Notre Dame’s press, handled most of the defensive pressure with aplomb. The young Boilers had some trouble executing down the stretch, but the game plan was solid. Overall, the coaching staff has brought the team along quite well. Time will tell if the effort will be too little too late for post-conference play this season, but there’s doubt the team is improving rapidly.
The officials did a fine job. There were the odd calls that seemed to come from outer space, but they were evenly balanced between the two teams.
Despite the loss, the Boilers may have played their basketball of the season on Monday. The proved that they could hang with a top 10 team, and that there are plenty of reason for optimism in Boiler Nation. If the Old Gold and Black can bring their new-found abilities on the road, a win against the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison is likely.
Game Ball: Jodi Howell