© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
DePaul and Purdue came into the WNIT championship game on Sunday afternoon in Mackey Arena with identical 3-0 records on the young season. The Blue Demons were the best team the Boilers had faced all year, and represented the first time the ďnew and improvedĒ Old Gold and Black would face a power conference caliber foe. The team from Chicago features 4 double figure scorers led by All-Big-East forward Keisha Hampton. Defensively, the Blue Demons are tall and athletic, and wily head coach Doug Bruno hasnít met a junk defense he doesnít love. Meanwhile, the Boilers were winning on the strength of their steady defense pressure and ability to get to the rim. One of the biggest questions entering the game was how Purdue find a way to score if the Blue Demons packed the paint, denying lanes to the basket. Either the Boilers would have to find an outside shooting touch that has, to this point in the season, eluded them, or they would be forced to find enough little gaps in the opponentís defense to score consistently. As it turned out, the Boilers found a way to score most of their points when they were totally unguarded Ė from the free throw line.
Championship games tend to be defensive struggles, and the WNIT final was no exception. Brittany Rayburn broke the ice to give Purdue the first points of the game, but DePaul hit right back. By the first media time out the visitors had a 4-7 lead. The Boilers fought back behind the strong play of Rayburn and Drey Mingo. The team home team was up by 3, 16-13, with 10 minutes gone in the game. The game stayed close the entire first period. Purdue did an excellent job defending the paint, but DePaulís three point shooters would make them pay if they were not guarded closely. The Boilers were having a difficult time connecting on their shots. Rayburn and then Moses scored from the baseline on back to back offensive possessions to increase the lead, but an adjustment by the Blue Demons closed the lane. The visitors were ahead by 2 points, 28-30, when the teams went into the locker room.
DePaul came out of intermission with renewed energy, and hit two three pointers to open the second half. Meanwhile, Purdue couldnít hit the ocean from the shore, whiffing on several open looks. The Boilers were getting fouled at a high frequency, however, and were able to keep things close from the charity stripe. The Blue Demons extended the lead to 6 points on several occasions, but each time a score by either Mingo or Rayburn would pull the Boilers back. Drey Mingo was on fire, and nailed her second three pointer of the afternoon to pull Purdue to within 2, 40-42 at the thirteen minute mark. DePaul responded by changing their defense. Head coach Doug Bruno later related that the team switched from focusing on Rayburn exclusively (box and one) to adding a shadow to Mingo as well (triangle and two). A DePaul defender now followed Drey when she moved out of the lane, opening up the paint for other Purdue scorers. DePaul made two free throws to reach 44 points with 11:38 remaining, and remained fixed on that mark for the next 4 minutes. Meanwhile, Purdue took advantage of the open lanes to the hoop. Alex Guyton and Nette Howard made uncontested lay-ups. Moses penetrated the lane. Her defender was late, and she was given two free throws for her trouble. The freshman sank them both, as well as three additional charity tosses she was awarded for being knocked down after attempting a triple. When DePaul called a time out to regroup, Purdue was up 49-44. Because of the large number of infractions committed by the team in blue, Purdue was in the double bonus. The Boilers added 5 more points from the free throw line as well as another Mingo three to extend their lead. At the last media time out, the Boilers were up by 9, 57-48. Versyp alternated Moses and Dee Dee Williams at the point for the final three minutes. Moses was on the court when Purdue was on offense. She is a good enough ball handler to get through traps and presses without coughing up the ball, and poised enough to nail her free throws when fouled. Williams went in on defense, and she used her speed and length to shut down DePaulís shooters. By the end of the game, the Blue Demons appeared spent; they shot a succession of air balls, and substituted physical play for footwork on defense. This resulted in even more free throw opportunities for the Old Gold and Black. The home team made most of them, and finished the game with a winning margin of 9 points, 67-58.
After the game, the Boilermakers were awarded the WNIT trophy. Drey Mingo was named to the All-Tournament team along with All-Tournament and Most Valuable Player, Brittany Rayburn. The team cut down the nets to end the afternoon. One hopes there will be more trophies and nets before the year is through.
Comments on Specific Aspects of the Game:
What offense? Both teams struggled mightily from the field. The Boilers connected on only 15 of 47 attempts on the afternoon. After a chilly 37% from the field in the first half, the team descended to a frigid 25% in the second. The shooting woes were a combination of good defense, DePaul brought more pressure than any of the teams the Boilers have played this year, and missing point-blank, open shots.
Purdueís constant ball pressure wore the Blue Demons out. DePaulís shooting percentages were essentially identical to the Boilers; 36.7% in the first half and 25% in the second. The key to the win was the Old Gold and Blackís ability to stay in front of the three point shooters. DePaul attempted to win the game from behind the arc, but only connected on 8 of 24 shots from downtown. The post players deserve special credit for hedging out on the DePaul guards, which allowed the Purdue guards to recover and get past screens without allowing the visitors any daylight.
The team did an excellent job getting caroms, and finished with 36 boards, 3 more than the Blue Demons. Drey Mingo led the way with 13 rebounds.
Free Throw Shooting:
Plain and simple, the Boilers won the game from the free throw line. The Blue Demons could not resist adding the extra nudge, the little push, or the two handed grab when attempting to slow down the ball. They got caught a large percent of the time they did this, which put the Boilers in the bonus early in the halves. Purdue hit 32 of their 37 attempts for an 86% rate. They scored 20 more points from the charity stripe than DePaul. This more than wiped out DePaulís 11 point advantage from the field. Chelsea Jones and Courtney Moses were perfect from the stripe.
The Boilers caught the turnover bug on Sunday. Most of the miscues could be attributed to DePaulís ball pressure, with an added helping of championship game nerves. Purdue did an excellent job finding holes in the defense and moving the ball to players who were in position to score. Unfortunately, many times the possessions were empty due to missed shots, but the teamís mind was in the right place. This was the first game of the season in which turnovers, 21, outnumbered assists, 10.
Big time players play their best in big games, and Drey Mingo took a huge step up in what was the Boilers biggest game to date. She owned the boards, didnít shy away from contact, and, when sent to the line, made her free throws. It would appear that most of the time she stands too close to the basket to make shots, however, as Drey hit all three of her three point shot attempts, but only 1 of her 5 shots in the paint. In all, Mingo scored 21 points (4-8, 3-3 3pt.ers, 10-12 FT), 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals to 4 turnovers.
Chelsea Jonesí tough summer conditioning paid off in a big way on Sunday. She did an excellent job closing out on shooters, hedging out on screens, and keeping DePaul post players in check. Itís a shame that she hasnít spent more time working on shot technique, as her odd motion may be responsible for her low percentages from the floor. On Sunday Chelsea finished with 4 points (1-4, 2-2 FT), 2 rebounds, and 2 turnovers.
Brittany Rayburn attacked this game. She attacked the basket, played tough minded defense, and vocally led the team. She drew 3 charges by getting to right spot before the offensive players. Perhaps the best play of the night was her three point basket, made on a secondary break when Nette Howard tossed her the ball. It wasnít the make so much, although every made field goal was precious, but the degree of authority with which she took the shot. The Most Valuable Player of the WNIT recorded 21 points (5-11, 2-6 3pt.ers, 9-10 FT), 2 rebounds, an assist, 2 blocks, and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.
Courtney Moses got a crash course on handling the ball under pressure on Sunday. She struggled initially, but as the game wore on she became increasingly comfortable. Courtney is having more trouble finding the basket than she did in high school, but her shot selection canít be faulted. The freshman ended the afternoon with 11 points (2-7, 0-1 3 pt.er, 7-7 FT), 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals to 3 turnovers.
Chantel Postonís comfort level increases with each outing. Being a defensive ace suits Chantel, and her energy and enthusiasm is contagious. Poston is fine tuning her timing, and leapt out of nowhere to grab rebounds on several occasions. Her jumping ability allows her to guard much taller players, and her speed can keep her in front of the zippiest of guards. In all Poston recorded 5 points (1-2, 3-4 FT), 6 rebounds, and a steal to 2 turnovers.
Antionette Howard struggled from the field. She will need to adapt to shooting over taller players, as she often shot right into the DePaul post playersí waiting hands. Nette contributed in other ways, but took a step back from earlier contests. Howard finished with 2 points (1-8, 0-1 3pt.er), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 turnovers.
Dee Dee Williams stepped in and ran the point when Moses was not on the floor. The freshman played an excellent defensive game, and gets the job done on offense as a floor general. Williams may not score consistently, but she takes shots when she needs to in order to keep the defense honest and not squeeze her teammates. Dee Dee closed out the afternoon with 1 point (0-4, 1-2 FT), 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a blocked shot to 2 turnovers.
Sam Ostarello did not look for her shot when she was on the court. Defensively Sam played well within herself and was able to shut down DePaulís wiry post players. In all, the South Dakotan pulled down 2 rebounds, and recorded a steal, blocked shot, and turnover.
Alex Guyton played 8 very solid minutes. For the first time this season she did not appear frustrated on the court, and one hopes she can build on the positives from this game. Alex finished with 2 points (1-1), 1 rebound and a blocked shot.
Samantha Woods was put into the game in an attempt to shoot the Blue Demons out of their zone. She failed to connect on two relatively open attempts. This appeared to affect her confidence and she subsequently passed up completely open looks.
Since she has been at Purdue, Sharon Versyp has gone undefeated in the preseason WNIT. Purdue now sits alongside UConn and LA Tech as the only three programs to have won the tournament two times. Versyp should be commended for this impressive accomplishment. Perhaps Versypís best move of the night occurred well after the game when she walked the length of the court to give a piece of the net to the band in appreciation of their contributions.
This was the game of the phantom travel calls. The officials found steps in places that nobody else did. The only saving grace was that they called the random traveling calls equally on both teams.
The announced crowd of 1899 felt quite a bit larger than last gameís 1580. The extra 300 butts in the seats must make all the difference. Because the contest was close until the very end, the audience was much more vocal than in earlier games, something that went a long way towards giving that impression of hugely increased crowd size. The Boiler faithful provided an excellent home court advantage, cheering loudly as they supported their team.
The Boilers leave for their first away game of the season as undefeated WNIT Champions. DePaul was the first team they encountered with BCS conference level talent, and the Old Gold and Black took everything that was thrown at them and found a way to win. Some might quibble about how good DePaul really is, but this year they are easily on par with half the teams in the Big 10. The win on Sunday gives the first solid indication that this yearís edition of the Old Gold and Black can expect to compete in the same company. The start of the season has provided a wonderful pay-off for all the hours of hard work the team put in over the summer, and is a great springboard to the rest of the year. The Boilers are on an upward trajectory, and it will be a lot of fun to see just how far they progress.
Game Ball: Drey Mingo