It's been almost a month since my last post, and what a busy month it was for the women's team. It was busy for me too, for that matter. I mean there was this parade thing in New York, and some football game that may or may not have occurred, not to mention the usual engineering/free time mutually-exclusive thing. So long story short, I've been snowed in and it's time for a catch-up post.
First, the good: at last posting, the Boilers were preparing to face DePaul for the preseason WNIT title. They handled that game exceptionally well, winning 67-58 to take the championship. The game was more or less a microcosm of the season: Brittany got hers, Courtney was solid at the point, and Drey went off in the second half to seal the deal. Drey Mingo was selected to the All-Tournament Team, and Brittany Rayburn was named MVP of the tournament. So far, that was the high point of the season, and then things started going all to hell.
Scheduled to get some experience away from home without facing anybody especially brutal (and get a free trip to Cancun), the team instead found itself watching one of their own fight a potentially life-threatening case of meningitis. Before I analyze any further, I'm going to wish Drey Mingo a speedy recovery, and thank God that things did not turn out worse. At one point she was only given a 50-50 chance at survival, much less a full recovery. Every once in a while we need to remember that athletes are human beings too, and Drey's illness should be viewed in that light rather than as nameless, faceless subtraction of talent. She was released from the hospital a week ago today after a five-day stay and she is expected to recover fully.
That said, the season is not over, and the team is facing a major challenge. How they respond to it will define the season.
For those of you who are less familiar with the women's team, I will say this. Robbie is, of course already out. That's KK's ACL injury. Now imagine JJ or E'Twaun breaks a leg. That is Drey's illness, both in severity for her and in the magnitude of the loss to the team. Quite frankly, it is beyond my knowledge to tell you how we'll adapt to the loss. Overcoming KK's ACL was going to be tough. Overcoming this will entail epic levels of difficulty. Everyone will have to step up, in more ways than I can count. And more ways than I can predict. Antionette Howard, Chantel Poston, and Sam Ostarello will have to take up her scoring load, and Chelsea Jones will likely absorb many of her minutes. The entire team will have to pick up the rebounding slack.
In the end, though, you do not simply replace a player of Drey's caliber. Everything I had seen this year from her had All-Conference written all over it. I am struggling to express just how disappointing this loss is for the fans, let alone the team and Drey herself. Put simply, this sucks for everyone. It completely redefines the season, and all my preseason feel for this team is more or less lost to the changes that will now be necessary. At this point, a top-half finish in the Big Ten and a NCAA bid are probably reasonable goals, but that is only a mildly educated guess.
Absurd runs of injuries aside, the games are still going on, and there have been two since the DePaul win. I have been dreading this since I started writing: the first post-loss wrap-up. There are very few people who follow the women's team as intensely as the band does, and it is a much more intimate experience than one gets at a men's game or a football game. As a result, criticism comes harder to me here than it does of the football team or the men's team.
Maryland 56, Purdue 55
This game was, for obvious reasons, an emotional roller coaster. Drey was able to attend, and was on the sidelines and in the huddle against her former team. In addition, it had been almost 2 weeks since the girls' last game, so there was undoubtedly some rust involved. I don't mind the loss here, but there were a couple things that stood out to me as a potential problems. In fairness, I only saw the last 13 minutes (goddamn exams), so this is based off a small sample size.
- 23 Turnovers. This scares me more than anything else about this injury. A loss of the fragile cohesion that has been building could be devastating to this team. Part of me is saying "not again" after last year's problems, but this may have been something of a fluke. TOs can be limited by playing smart, so this is a fixable issue if it continues.
- Our endgame. This is one of my pet peeves at any level of basketball. I cannot stand watching teams dribble down to 10 seconds on the shot clock and THEN start an offense. It always ends badly, and it allowed Maryland to come back from a 10-point deficit. At least run the 4-corners and move the defense around, rather than standing literally in the backcourt watching the clock tick.
Notre Dame 72, Purdue 51
This game is more concerning. Admittedly it was the team's first road game, against a ranked team no less, but road games were a problem last year, and this was not a good start. Again turnovers were an issue, 24 this time, and by all accounts it was simply an ugly, ugly beatdown. I was marching in the Lafayette Christmas Parade at the time, so again I'm box-scoring it, but ugh. Damn my lack of free time.
Reading between...actually, just reading, Coach Versyp was pissed: "We didn't execute anything - nothing. Every time I drew something up it didn't work. We played no defense, no communication, we weren't physical. Our post players had some shots and they didn't finish, and Notre Dame did." Somehow I'm imagining a more polite, articulate Jim Mora. It sounds like it was ugly, but I give her credit for acknowledging the problems, unlike other coaches around here. I'm looking at you, Mr. Blind Hope. Several of the players expressed similar sentiments, so they understand that things have to change too.
All that having been said, and having merit, we also should realize that this team is both young and has suffered two brutal body blows early in the year. The Maryland game was still a whisker away from being a win over a ranked opponent, and Notre Dame is a very good team, on the road. This was a 2-game losing streak, not 8 or 10. This team is still learning to play without KK, let alone Drey, and we likely won't get a feel for what they can do for at least another 2 weeks or so. Until then, we wait and watch, as always, get LOUD.