HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: Indians get defensive to tame Lions
After a back-and-forth first half, Indiana tightened up defensively, intensified its aggressiveness on the boards and moved the ball more fluently from the get-go in the second half against Greensburg Salem.
The Indians took control with a 7-0 run early in the third quarter and then buried 9 of 16 free throws in the fourth to run away with a 52-40 win in a pivotal WPIAL Section 3-AAA girls’ basketball game at Fifth Street Gymnasium on Thursday.
The second-place Indians (7-3, 3-1 section), who have played just twice since Christmas, have reeled off four straight wins, including two in section play, and will travel to Yough tonight. Greensburg Salem is in third place in the section standings, behind Indiana.
“This was huge,” Indiana coach Dave Woodall said. “We’ve only played twice in the last 18 days and now we’re going to play five of the next eight nights, but this was the big one, especially since we were playing here.
“We had to win here because we’ve got to go down there (Greensburg) and play them yet. The good thing is we certainly didn’t play our best game, especially offensively, but we can improve on that. That just comes with more reps and more practice.”
Guard Kaitlyn Hoff nailed a 3-pointer just 8 seconds into the second half to extend Indiana’s lead to 30-26.
Forward Lucy Bujdos and freshman guard Jessica Stever then hit open layups on back-to-back possessions to go up by eight points, 34-26, with 4:28 to go in the third quarter.
Claire Oberdorf brought the Lions within five points of the lead for the last time when she drilled a deep jump shot with 3:13 left in the third quarter to cut their deficit to three points, 34-31.
Stever made a short jumper with 3 seconds left in the third to pad Indiana’s lead to six points, 39-33.
“Any time we start slow like that coach (Woodall) really just stresses that we pick it up defensively,” Stever said. “We did that tonight and it pumped us up and took the pressure off our shooters.”
The Indians moved the ball effortlessly in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter and played Woodall’s brand of keep-away to perfection, a strategy that prevented the Lions from scoring for more than four minutes in the quarter.
Oberdorf finally hit a pair of free throws with 3:50 to go in the fourth to cut Indiana’s lead to six points, 41-35.
But thanks to five points from Bujdos, and three points apiece from guard Abbey Karcher and Hoff, the Indians stamped their win and ended the game on an 11-5 spurt.
“That’s a smart coach and that was a very smart move,” Greensburg Salem coach Janine Vertacnik said of Woodall’s decision to use ball movement to chew up time early in the fourth quarter. “He got a lead against a team he obviously has respect for so he spread the floor and made us chase them. It’s like monkey in the middle, and if you have guards like he has that can handle the ball, then you do that every time.”
Bujdos led the Indians in scoring and posted a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds (six offensive) to go along with seven steals.
Hoff chipped in 13 points, seven rebounds (four offensive), four assists and two steals, and Stever had nine points, six rebounds (four offensive) and three steals.
It was a back-and-forth struggle in the first half.
Hoff swished a deep 3-point field goal to put the Indians ahead for the first time, 7-4, with 5:17 to play in the first quarter.
Roughly 1:30 later, Stever grabbed an offensive rebound before banking in a layup with a defender in her face to give Indiana a 13-8 lead, its biggest of the first half.
But Indiana committed four turnovers in the last three minutes of the first quarter and allowed the Golden Lions to finish on an 8-2 run which put the visitors ahead 16-15 heading into the second.
The Lions maintained a small lead for the better part of the second quarter until forward Zoe Zahorchak heaved a nifty pass to Hoff, who banked in a layup on a fast break to give Indiana 24-23 lead with 2:04 to go.
Zahorchak completed a three-point play on the Indians’ ensuing possession to stretch their lead to 27-23 with 1:32 left in the first half.
The resilient Lions regained their footing, however, and made 3 of 4 free throws in the last minute of the second quarter to slice Indiana’s halftime lead to 27-26.
“It’s always a scrappy game against Greensburg Salem … no matter what,” Hoff said. “We had a few games in the past that triggered this, but no matter our skill levels or our records, it’s always going to be a tough game with them. … They’re always going to come out hard and we’re always going to come out hard.”
Indiana dominated in the rebounding department and scored 13 second-chance points to Greensburg Salem’s zero.
“That was the difference in the game right there,” Vertacnik said. “We’re small and they just kept pounding the boards and pounding the boards. We consistently got just one shot on our possessions and we didn’t get any of the easy baskets that they got. They played good defense but we shot poorly and we didn’t score any second-chance points. In my opinion, that was the biggest difference tonight.”