© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
The word that might have best expressed the mindset of the Purdue Boilermakers as they began the 2010-2011 season was “giddy.” After the worst campaign in recent memory, the team that returned this year was deeper, fitter, more athletic, and - most importantly - healthier. The Old Gold and Black began the year with 5 new players to add into the mix; 1 player returning from injury, 2 freshmen and 2 eligible redshirts. Despite this they exuded a positive chemistry that had eluded them during the previous 12 months. Even Sharon Versyp was smiling.
On Friday evening the Boilers took on Austin Peay in the first round of the WNIT. After two decisive exhibition wins, expectations for the upcoming season were sky high. One of the brightest spots was the improvement of sophomore KK Houser. As a freshman she evidenced enormous athleticism, but was inconsistent and could play out of control. The Nebraskan native grew up over the summer, and emerged as a vocal leader and heady point guard. Four minutes after tip-off, however, the happy train express that team had been riding suddenly derailed. KK went down hard when she was fouled on a break away lay-up and didn’t get up. It was immediately evident that she was hurt badly and would not return that night. By the next day it was official, Houser suffered from a torn ACL and is out for the year.
To paraphrase a noted football color commentator, the Boilers were facing one of those pressure moments that either “makes diamonds or bursts pipes” For a minute or two it wasn’t clear in which direction the team was going to go. The visitors scored six unanswered points, and pulled to within 4, 16-12, with just under 12 minutes to go. Purdue called a time out, and Versyp was able to refocus her charges. On the ensuing play Nette Howard was fouled on a strong move to the hoop and cashed in on the free throw line. Next Brittany Rayburn hit her 4th straight three point basket followed by a Moses steal and break away lay-up. By the ten minute mark the Boilers had pushed their advantage to ten points. Carrie Daniels, the Lady Gov’s head coach, called a time out, but the route was on. Purdue became increasingly sure of itself and aggressive as the half continued, and went into the locker room up by 15, 42-27.
The starters in the second half were Mingo, Poston, Rayburn, Moses, and Ostarello. SamO earned the start for her lights out shooting, strong rebounding, and aggressive defense. She continued her high level of play in the second stanza, at one point scoring 8 straight points. The Old Gold and Black’s energy and push to the basket never wavered and they pulled away steadily over the course of the second stanza. When the final buzzer went off they had poured in 93 points and extended their lead over the hapless visitors by 40 points. The final score was 93-53.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game
The last time the Boilers scored more than 90 points was in 2005, before Versyp’s return to West Lafayette. Every Boiler who played scored at least a point, 5 finished in double figures. What is more, all but one player recorded at least one assist. These gaudy statistics stem from the team’s attacking style of play. The team pushed the ball all night, and made many of their baskets in transition. The Boilers slowed down a bit when forced into the half court, but gained confidence moving the ball to find the open player as the game wore on. The only time the team failed to capitalize on offense was when they got too cute and went for the colorful play or forced too many extra passes.
The Boilers have the speed and depth to pressure the ball for 40 minutes, and they gave the Lady Govs fits all night. The team’s speed resulted in improved play in the half court as well, with post players rotating and closing out lanes crisply. The Old Gold and Black allowed easy ball movement when they were in a zone, but in man to man they were consistently disruptive.
It might seem odd to single out rebounding as a trouble spot when the Boilers finished the game with a 42 to 25 advantage on the boards. The players do not “find a body” when a shot goes up. Rather, they rely on their superior athletic ability to get to the ball first. Such a strategy will work when playing the Austin Peays of the world, but is unlikely to be as successful against stiffer competition. Sam Ostarello led the team with 9 rebounds.
The team hit 21 of 32 attempts for 66%. There is certainly some room for improvement, but not too embarrassing.
If you had to point to one difference between last year’s edition of the Old Gold and Black and this one, it would be in the area of decision making. After averaging 18 turnovers per game in 2009-2010, the Boilers have acquired the ability to take care of the ball. The team only coughed the ball up 11 times – a good figure for any outing, let alone the first game of the season. For comparison, in 2009 the Boilers committed 17 turnovers in their season opener against an opponent that was weaker than the Lady Govs.
Drey Mingo looked a bit rusty when the game started, but grew increasingly dominant as the game wore on. Her ability to hold onto difficult passes is amazing, and she will only become more effective as her teammates learn how to find her. Mingo went up against some very physical post players, and was able to hold her own. Drey finished her first game in a Purdue uniform with 10 points (4-7, 0-1 3 pt.er, 2-5 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal to 1 turnover.
Samantha Woods has a maturity and calmness that helps her teammates. She knows where to be and played within herself during her time on the court. Sam does not impress as a physical presence, but she was able to stand up to physical play without losing her effectiveness. In all, Sam recorded 2 points (1-2, 0-1 3 pt.er), 4 rebounds, and an assist, steal, and 3 blocked shots, to 1 turnover.
Brittany Rayburn is finally comfortable and was able to condition fully in the off season. The improvement in her play was immediately evident. She came out of the gate red hot – hitting her first 4 shots, all 3 pointers. Things settled down for her after that, but Rayburn continued to contribute on both ends of the court. In the second half Brittany was cut in the ear while going for a rebound, and had to leave the game for a short period of time. She will have a very impressive bruise for a while, but hopefully no permanent damage. Rayburn finished with 13 points (4-8, 4-6 3 pt.er, 1-2 FT), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals to 2 turnovers.
KK Houser scored a field goal, pulled down a rebound, and dished out an assist in 4 minutes play. That will be the sum total of her statistical contributions this season. In a bitterly disappointing turn of events, KK suffered a devastating knee injury. The only thin silver lining to this cloud is that KK’s injury occurred early enough in the year to allow her to redshirt.
Like Drey, Chantel Poston needs to get some of the rust off as she comes back from a year off. Chantel returned with every bit of athleticism that she evidenced freshman year. Poston might be a bit too unselfish as she passed up open shots. As she gains experience, Chantel should have less trouble finding the basket. Poston finished with 2 points (1-5), 3 rebounds, and both an assist and a steal.
Antoinette Howard had a year and knee surgery to come back from. Like Drey, she went from looking tentative and rusty to being a force on the floor. As advertised, Nette demonstrated an uncanny ability to get to the rim and finish, even when going up against taller, physical players. Nette ended her first outing with the Boilers with 11 points (3-9, 0-2 3 pt.er, 5-6 FT), 6 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and one turnover.
Courtney Moses took over the point position when KK left. Luckily for Purdue, Courtney is a natural point guard who can also score. She is an excellent decision maker for any age player let alone a freshman playing in her first game. She did a good job getting the ball to players who were in position to score, but was also more than comfortable making her own shot. There is no question that Moses will have some freshman moments and growing pains, but everything she has shown so far indicates that she’s up to the task of running the team. Moses finished with a game-high 20 points (7- 11, 4-5 3 pt.er, 2-3 FT), 1 rebound, 5 assists and a steal to 4 turnovers.
Dee Dee Williams prides herself on her defense. She has speed, good court sense, and an enormous wing span. Opponents think they have beaten her, only to get the shot swatted by an arm that comes out of nowhere. When the team needs a score, Dee Dee isn’t afraid to take the shot, and she was Purdue’s best free throw shooter. Even though Dee Dee does not play like a freshman, one senses that her potential has barely been scratched. The Indianapolis native recorded 7 points (1-3, 0-1 3 pt.er, 5-6 FT), 2 rebounds, 4 assist and a blocked shot.
Sam Ostarello had the game of career. She hit 8 or her 9 shots from the floor, nearly beating the Purdue record for shooting percentage in a game. One or two of her buckets might have been luck, a last second leaner off the back foot comes to mind, but most were pure. Sam was just as dominant on the defensive end, swatting balls and getting to rebounds. Hopefully Sam can build on this and continue to play at a high level. She has the potential to be one of the best players in the Big 10 and it was great to see her demonstrate that on the court. Sam finished with 18 points (8-9, 2-4 FT), 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots to 1 turnover.
Friday saw the debut of Chelsea Jones 2.0. The junior has transformed herself physically from past seasons. She is now long, lean, and in the best shape of her life. All the minutes she saw last year has greatly improved her basketball savvy, and she did a great job closing out players, rotating on defense, and contributing of both ends of the court. Jones scored a total of 3 points (1-2, 1-2 FT), 3 rebounds, an assist and 2 blocked shots.
Alex Guyton picked up 3 personal fouls in 8 minutes play. The whistles clearly frustrated her, and she had a hard time letting the game come to her. Alex is a powerful post player, and one hopes she gets into the flow as she continues to recover from off-season surgery. In all, Guyton recorded 5 points (1-2, 3-4FT), 1 rebound, and a steal to one turnover.
One can only image what was going through Sharon Versyp’s mind when Brittany Rayburn staggered off the court in the second half with blood pouring out of her ear. Perhaps her life flashed before her eyes. Versyp is obviously extremely happy with this year’s team. Since her arrival in West Lafayette, Versyp has talked about getting up and down the floor, playing a transition style of basketball and generating offense from defense. This might be the year we will see it on the court.
The officials were not Big 10 regulars. That is not a bad thing, not by any stretch. All three did a credible job.
The announced crowd was 8414. The stands were pretty bare at 5:00 pm, but the fans filtered over the course of the game. The crowd numbers would be greatly increased if the Gold and Black Sound were included in the head count. The band this year is enormous. GBS is the start of much of the spirit in the arena, and they always do an excellent job.
The loss of KK Houser will hurt; the team may lose some games it would have won otherwise. This year’s edition of the Old Gold and Black has the depth to overcome the loss of a starter without being completely devastated, however. There is very little drop off when bench players are rotated in. This sustained level of play wore out Austin Peay, and will continue to wear out a lot of other squads over the course of the year. For this reason, one might expect to see Purdue to win more than their share of come from behind games and to excel in overtime situations. Their next opponent is Toledo in the second round of the WNIT. If they play with the same intensity they should have little problem dispatching the Rockets.
Game Ball: Sam Ostarello