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Lady Knights heating up at the perfect time of year

Posted: February 3, 2011 11:54 a.m.
Updated: February 4, 2011 5:00 a.m.
C-I photo by Tom Didato/

NORTH CENTRAL’S BRIANNA BROWN searches for an open teammate while being pressured by Lewisville’s Dia Dodson in action from Tuesday’s game.

Things are starting to fall into place for the North Central girls’ basketball team. And with the state playoffs looming around the bend, the Lady Knights’ timing could not be any better.

Using a game-opening 9-0 salvo, NC battered visiting Lewisville, 41-25, Tuesday night inside The Castle in Boonetown.

The victory gave Mitch Lowder’s troops a 4-3 mark in Region 3-A, good for third in the league, heading into tonight’s key home contest against league-leading C.A. Johnson.

After a 2-8 record in non-conference play, NC has turned things around in region play. The explanation for that, Lowder said, is simple.

“We’re playing tougher; not just physically but mentally, especially on the defensive end,” he said following an evening in which his girls pulled down a season-best 49 rebounds while scoring 10 points on putbacks on the offensive glass.

“We still have to get better offensively,” Lowder added. “But, we scored 41 points tonight. We haven’t scored in the 40s in a while. We hit some key layups in this game.”

The 16-point final spread is a bit deceiving when you look at it from different sides. From the Lady Lions’ points of view, they could argue that had they made some early free throws (missing their first 10 tries), things could have been tighter. Across the way, Lowder instructed his team to go into a delay game early in a fourth quarter in which the hostesses held a comfortable 35-21 advantage with less than five minutes remaining in the contest. That tactic helped keep the final score somewhat reasonable.

“We went to a delay game early in the fourth quarter, just to see how they would defend it,” Lowder said. “But, we were still looking to score out of it. They had a hard time defending it.”

NC came out flying offensively, getting an 18-foot Salelia Rollins jumper in the opening dozen seconds to start things. A half-minute later, Alexis Robinson converted on both ends of a traditional 3-point play before a Simone Bracey putback and another of the same variety from Robinson made it a 9-0 game less than three minutes after the opening tip.

Two more stickbacks, courtesy of Robinson and Haley Thomas, helped NC to a commanding 13-2 lead which stood at 13-4 after one quarter of play.

The visitors not only had trouble on the boards against NC, but never got into a rhythm against a 1-3-1 zone, which was implemented to try and limit the damage from LHS point guard Brittany Zoelle.

“We knew they had a strong point guard so, we wanted to pack in that 1-3-1 and make them prove that they could hit the outside shot,” said NC defensive coach Carl Olson. “They are not a good outside shooting team. They try to drive, penetrate inside and then, pop it outside. We didn’t want (Zoelle) to penetrate, and we tried to eliminate the flashes through the zone to get the ball to their post people.”

Zoelle started finding openings in the zone in a second quarter in which she did all of her damage, scoring all six of her points in the second stanza. It was a Zoelle trey followed by a stickback from teammate Brittany Walls which helped LHS trim the deficit to 16-11 at the 5:45 mark of the second quarter.

Bracey then had a putback and a pair of free throws to extend the NC lead to 20-11 midway through the quarter. But seconds later, Bracey left the game due to a leg injury while NC point guard Elexis Ross was tagged with her third personal foul. From that point, LHS outscored NC, 4-2, over the final three minutes of the half and trailed, 22-15, at intermission.

“Elexis Ross picked up her third foul and any time she goes out of the game, we have trouble offensively,” Lowder said. “We let them get back in it in the second quarter before we were able to get back in the flow. Athletically, though, they’re as good as anybody we play.”

With Ross and Bracey back on the floor to start the second half, NC used five points from Bracey and a 16-foot jumper from Brianna Brown to put the lead back in double figures at 29-18 with 2:30 left in the third. The lead was still at 11, at 30-19, heading into the final quarter.

LHS would use a Madison Ramsey layin to start the final stanza and closed the gap to 32-23 after a Walls free throw with 6:23 remaining. A Robinson foul shot and then her putting back her missed second shot for a pair all but put this one away at 35-23.

From there, Lowder spread the court and forced the Lady Lions to chase the basketball, while telling his team to work for the easy shot out of the delay set.  Layups from Thomas and Brown came from the set as the Lady Knights were able to hang onto third place in the region behind C.A. Johnson and McBee.

“We felt Zoelle is their team and we wanted to take her away from the basket on the defensive end,” Lowder said of the late-game strategy. “We were able to control that when we ran our delay game and were able to still attack the basket.”

With three regular season games remaining, starting with tonight’s home contest with C.A. Johnson, the Lady Knights are on the cusp of earning a playoff berth. Now, that Lowder hopes for is to move into second place and get a first round home playoff contest.

“I think we’re a much better ball team, right now, than we were earlier in the season,” he said.

“The first time we played C.A. Johnson, it was a five-point game going into the fourth quarter. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to win a big ballgame (tonight.)”

LHS (25): Brittany Walls 2 2-12 25, Tier Browns 2 2-6 6, Brittany Zoelle 2 1-2 6, Madison Ramsey 3 1-2 7. Totals: 9 6-22 25

NC (41): Salelia Rollins 2 0-0 4, Alexis Robinson 5 2-3 12, Simone Bracey 5 3-7 13, Haley Thomas 2 1-2 5, Elexis Ross 0 2-4 2, Brianna Brown 2 1-3 5. Totals: 16 9-19 41

Score by quarters: First: NC, 13-4; Halftime: NC, 22-15; Third: NC, 30-19; Three-point goals: LHS 1 (Zoelle), NC none

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