Purdue won their second straight home game early in the season, taking down the Lamar Cardinals out of Southwest Texas. Not exactly a national powerhouse, they are a winning program with one bonafide star and a solid winning record. While it would be good to play a tougher non-conference schedule, at least with the schedule we have, it is allowing our young team to get some valuable experience as they get used to playing together as a unit. Replacing graduating seniors Ashley Morrissette and Bridget Perry was not going to be easy, the team leaders and two leading scorers from a year ago. This season has brought up some key questions, such as who is going to replace that scoring and leadership? Also, who will run the point and set up the offense? The answer to the first question is, it is being done by committee. In the past two games, including the previous win over Miami of Ohio, there have been four players in double figures.
Aside from the obvious senior leadership of Andreona Keys, the three players who have done the most to lead the way this season so far have been sophomores Ae’Rianna Harris and Lamina Cooper, and true freshman Karissa McLaughlin. Harris has really had two breakout games in a row. Against Miami she posted her first double double of her career with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Against Lamar she got her second straight double double with 18 points and a career high 14 rebounds. She also rejected 7 shots, after rejecting 3 in the previous game. She is not tall for the center position, and other players continue to attempt shots against her based on her 6-1 frame, unaware that she has phenomenal leaping ability, only to get rejected. It really gets into the head of opposing post players. Karissa McLaughlin only had 5 points against Miami, but contributed in other ways and in the opener against Central Michigan and today against Lamar she had 21 and 12 points. She does a fine job of running the point, has a high basketball IQ, and has quite a nice stroke from downtown. She is going to score a lot of points. Lamina Cooper has really come on strong this season, having worked her way into the starting lineup. Against Lamar she took over in the second quarter, and finished with 16 points and 5 rebounds. I really like her game. She has great instincts and has really been aggressive on offense this year, after being mostly relied on for her defense in her freshman season. It just seems like she rarely makes a bad play. One nice thing about these three players is that they all hail from Indiana. Lawrence North must have had some high school basketball team with Harris and Cooper playing at the same time.
Redshirt sophomore Tiara Murphy is starting to show what she can do this season, after tearing an ACL last year and fighting through multiple injuries her freshman season. She does a good job of running the point, although I would like to see her do less dribbling around. It seems like she is not really setting up any kind of play with all of that dribbling, but maybe I am missing something. Maybe she is looking for an opening to get things going. But you can’t fault her shooting touch. She really stroked it in the season opener at Central Michigan, hitting 6 of 9 three point attempts. She is versatile in that she has already become a combo guard, equally comfortable playing either the 1 or 2 guard positions.
Andreona Keys is just continuing to be her same reliable self. She is solid game in and game out, already having played in 100 games. She starts as a 4 guard, but is more of a natural as a 3 guard. Tamara Farquhar is already making solid contributions in a similar dual role. With the team being post challenged so far this year, she is doing well as a 4 guard, playing good defense and providing some scoring and rebounds. Until Dani Lawson gets more accustomed to the Division I college level of play, and Nora Kiesler and Fatou Diagne recover and get back into playing form, Purdue is going to be playing a 4 guard offense almost all of the time. As I have already mentioned, we have gotten away with this against the level of competition we have played so far, but down the road it is going to become a bigger factor. Also, despite the stellar defense of Harris, Keys, and Farquhar, our opponents already have been able to find a lot of openings for very short floaters and jumpers around the basket.
While we do have some solid talent, the fact remains that most of this team are freshmen and sophomores. True enough, the sophomore class is super special. Some of this inexperience will be evident as it has been already, as the season progresses. Coach Versyp does a solid job of developing players over time. A good example from the past few years have been April Wilson and Ashley Morrissette. Each year they improved their game, and they both had great senior seasons. This season, we can see the development of players like Harris and Cooper continue. Harris finished her freshman campaign really strong, leading the Boilers all the way within one basket of defeating Notre Dame and making it into the Sweet Sixteen. Already this season, she is showing more maturity and has greatly improved her offense. I like the plays when guards loft a high pass into the post, Harris leaps above everyone around her to grab the ball, then makes a very athletic move to finish at the rim. This has happened with regularity already this season.
Obviously the Boilers are cutting their teeth early this season against teams they are supposed to beat. We should be beating these teams by 25 or 30 points instead of letting them hang around and finishing with a 10 to 15 point victory. However, all three teams have been experienced winning programs, and we knew coming in to this season that a lot of players are going to have to grow their game rather quickly to prepare for the Big Ten Conference season. Starting the season 3-0 beats the heck out of last season’s start, when we lost to Maine and Villanova very early on. Should we be concerned? Of course. But we will have to chalk them up as wins nevertheless and count on the team to gain valuable experience which will lead to improvement as a team as the season progresses.
Obviously we have issues in the post. But that being said, Miami of Ohio decided to play tight on our outside shooters to limit three point shooting, and they accomplished that by leaving Purdue 1-12 from downtown. However, that opened up the interior, leading to 54 points in the paint. So despite being post challenged, three point shooting will be one of the keys to the season. Against Lamar, 5 different players hit at least one three pointer. So this will present some challenges for opposing defenses as to who to leave open from outside. Against Lamar, Dominique Oden, who opened the season slowly, started to come alive with her shooting and finished with 12 points. So once again, it is scoring by committee.
Another issue is overall team leadership. The past two seasons, the clear team leader was April Wilson then last season Ashley Morrissette, and both ran the team from the point guard position. We really don’t have a true team leader at the point position to set up the offense this season. This is being done by committee. I’m comfortable with Murphy or McLaughlin running the point, but not so sure about Miracle Gray. Yes she is improved a lot over last year. But she is not much of a scoring threat and hasn’t shown so far the leadership qualities for the point guard position. If she continues to improve, we will see how that works out.
The team heads out west over the weekend, playing against Utah on Monday night. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 network, a station I don’t get. Plus it is late on a weeknight. I don’t know anything about the Utes, but perhaps as a Pac-12 team they may provide a tougher test to see how this year’s team responds.