"I love it when a plan comes together." So said Hannibal on the old A-team episodes. OK, I am dating myself. But it came true at Ball State on Thursday night, as Coach Versyp drew up a game plan to limit the Cardinal's best shooters and attack the zone, and the players did a great job of executing said game plan.
The athleticism and stamina of this year's team came through, as starters played major minutes while sticking to mostly a man to man stifling defense the entire game and really pushing the pace on offense. Yes, there were frustrating turnovers and a few manageable cold shooting spells, but for the most part, this was perhaps the best game played this season so far. Lamina Cooper and Ae'Rianna Harris provided the bulk of playing time off the bench, and both did a fine job, especially Harris. Her alley-oop layup from a McBryde pass was a thing of beauty, and she also grabbed her most rebounds in a game, 10, with some of them in the midst of a lot of traffic. But they were not the only freshmen to shine, as Dominique Oden scored in double figures once again with a game leading 15 points.
This freshman class is really special. They pretty much won the previous game for the Boilers, combining for 31 points, 21 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 blocks, and 3 steals in Tuesday night's win over Central Michigan. Perhaps the most notable were the 5 emphatic blocks by Harris that infused a lot of energy and enthusiasm into the game. Down the stretch, Central Michigan just couldn't even get a shot off anywhere near the basket as Harris operated in beast mode swatting the ball out of the air.
Now for the bad news, if you have not heard. In last Sunday's game against Colgate, in the last few minutes of the game, after having a fine game, sophomore point guard Tiara Murphy tore her ACL. She was really starting to come on running the point and draining some nice jumpers. This will really hurt the team over the long season, but it is what it is.
Ashley Morrissette is so far turning in an impressive senior year. Against Ball State, she sank four three pointers, setting the record for having hit at least one three pointer in a game in 23 straight games, breaking the old record set by Katie Gearlds in 2006. A natural 2 guard, Morrissette has embraced her new role at the point guard position. Her conditioning is unquestionable, as she is playing major minutes while leading the team in scoring, running the offense most of the time, and holding her own on defense as well. With Murphy out for the season, and freshman Miracle Gray not quite ready for prime time, Bridget Perry and Andreona Keys are helping out from time to time in driving the point. One thing I noticed in the Ball State game was the proficiency with which the Boiler's women's team breaks a press. The Cardinals applied full court pressure for large stretches, but the Boilers did not get rattled by it. It did lead to a couple of turnovers, but then it also allowed a few easy layups when Purdue beat the press and passed the ball down court over the top of it.
The blueprint early on for beating Purdue was to pack in a zone and limit Morrissette. However, Coach V has been working on that with good results in this past 4 game win streak. Outside shooting, both three pointers as well as mid range 2 point jumpers have been falling with regularity. Not only is Morrissette hitting some nice outside shots, but Oden, Perry, and Keys are also contributing in that area. Combine that with crisper passing and better movement without the ball, and Purdue is showing real progress in beating the various zone defenses it has been facing. Other teams are having to not only game plan for Morrissette, but also the awesome freshman Oden. Her play hasn't surprised Coach V but perhaps it has surprised a lot of other people. She plays with great composure, is not rattled, and really knows how to get the ball into the basket. This has cemented her role as the starting shooting guard for the time being, and maybe the rest of the season, now that Murphy is out. This means that while other teams are having to game plan for both guards, that will open things up in the post and on the wing, where Perry, McBryde and Harris can get better looks. Unfortunately Bree Horrocks is also done for the season due to knee injury, as that takes away another option down low. However, Nora Keisler can come in and provide some post presence with her 6-6 frame. The only thing about her, is that she is not such a quick mover, which leads to less playing time, making room for the speedy and hyper-athletic Harris to do her thing in the post.
So where is this team at this point in the season? Well there is no reason to harp on about the poor start to the season. Everyone was disappointed to say the least in a 1-3 start to the season. However, now the team sits at 7-4, with the only subsequent loss coming against a top 10 Stanford team. Even then the Boilers played Stanford pretty much even until the last 3 minutes or so of action. We were saying this team needs to turn things around. We need to see more games against quality opposition, but the team has made great strides since the early season woes. Shooting can still be a concern, and so can too many turnovers. But then this is college level basketball and cold shooting spells and turnovers are just part of the game. Not to make excuses, especially in the turnover category. Maybe with such a fast paced offense, some more turnovers must be tolerated. But they must be limited for a truly successful season. Shooting has definitely improved. Probably the greatest improvement in this yet young season has been in defense and effort. They just seemed to be lacking in those first 4 games. Defense is back, if the Ball State game is any indication. They have a lot of scoring options and to hold them to only 42 points on their own court is quite an accomplishment. Great defense for Purdue will then lead to offense, as it almost always does. It is a definite concern having both Murphy and Horrocks done for the season with knee injuries, so this makes for a shorter bench. On the other hand, Purdue is using a tighter rotation, where groups of players can play through some situations with the same lineup for extended periods of time. This can lead to a more cohesive unit than situations where the coach is over-substituting to the point where a player can't work into the flow of the game before being yanked right out again.
Now let's win out on the non-conference games, a doable task, and prepare for the grind of the B1G schedule coming soon.