March 2, 2007
When Purdue freshman FahKara Malone takes the ball down the court as the game clock is winding down in the Boilermakers' quarterfinal win over Wisconsin, she does not feel the tingle of newcomer's nerves.
Forget that it's the first Big Ten Tournament game of her young career. Forget that her 15th-ranked Boilermakers are heading into overtime against capable spoiler Wisconsin.
"As everyone has been saying, I'm not a freshman anymore," said Malone. "I'm just going out there and trying to get the job done for my team. That's all that matters."
And she was not the Big Ten Tournament neophyte piloting her team into overtime. Badger freshman Rae Lin D'Alie has also found an accelerated learning curve as the Wisconsin point guard.
Regardless of how short their collegiate resumes may be, both lived up to the task in an exciting opening quarterfinal. Malone paced the Boilermakers with 13 points and career-high-tying totals in assists (8) and rebounds (7).
At the end of the game, Malone remained composed but aggressive, diving for every loose ball. She came up with five steals, too.
"FahKara is our engine," said Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp. "When she runs, we run. She's that floor leader; she's the coach on the floor, and to have that with the people that are surrounding her, she's very empowered. She loves it. FahKara is the key to this team."
But it wasn't the first time the Evansville, Ind., native had clocked time on the court at Conseco Fieldhouse. A year ago, Malone led the Memorial-Reitz to the 2006 Class 3A State Championship title game hosted at the home of the Pacers. Despite the falling to Fort Wayne Bishop in her prep grand finale, Malone was glad to be back.
"It's special because I played in state here and lost, so that made me a little nervous," Malone said. "It was exciting. It was a little too exciting for me sometimes, but I'm just glad we all pulled together."
Despite coming into the season without any roadmap to the demands of being a collegiate-level point guard, Malone has had the most valuable resource on the sidelines in Versyp, who started at the position all four of her years as a Boilermaker. D'Alie, who is responsible for getting the ball to Big Ten scoring leader Jolene Anderson, had the same benefit from Badger head coach Lisa Stone, who ruled the point in her playing days at Iowa.
At the beginning of the season, Versyp was faced with three choices to fill the position: Malone, senior All-American shooting guard Katie Gearlds or sophomore Lauren Mioton.
"I think it was just that she's older and more mature, and she just knew how to handle it," Malone explained. "But we talked and knew that I wanted to be in there. She wanted me to be there because it's a lot better having her coming off screens and getting her the ball then her bringing it up every time."
After seeing Malone's stat line in the quarterfinal, Gearlds, who scored a team-leading 26 points in the effort, is thankful she was relieved of ball-handling duties.
"She had an unbelievable game. Her presence on the floor and handling the ball for us for 45 minutes, you can't say enough about the kid," Gearlds said. "She took one shot and I was like, oh, my goodness, there's like eight feet behind the three, but she's got guts and that's the type of kid she is.
"We've just really been blessed to have her on our team this year. When she's leading the way for us, we're doing a pretty good job."