Girls lose to Molalla, but regroup for 40-30 win over Central Friday

After suffering a 51-31 defeat at the hands of Molalla last Tuesday and dropping to 0-3 in league play, the Huskies’ girls basketball team began to talk the talk, not on the basketball floor, but in a team meeting that Coach Mark Tyler called “the best talk we had in two years.”

The Huskies then began to walk the walk, one that both Tyler and the girls under-stand will be a long walk as they try to build a program.

“It’s a learning process,” stated Tyler, “and I think we learned quite a bit from the Molalla game.”

In that game, the Huskies faced full court pressure and a daunting half court trap in the Indians’ uptempo game. With balanced scoring, Molalla jumped to a 18-5 first quarter lead that they extended to 30-13 at halftime. Never quite confident in what they wanted to do with the constant pressure, Sweet Home lost some more ground in the third quarter before they tacked some respectability onto the scoreboard by outscoring the Indians 16-9 in the fourth quarter. Jessica Brocard led the Husky scoring with 14 points followed by an ailing Amanda Burcham, who added six.

In the two practice days following the Molalla loss, Tyler began to see a change in the team’s mental discipline.

“The girls understand they are not going to go from no wins to the league title in one year,” said Tyler. “They took that Molalla game and used that as a plus to motivate them to get ready for this last three games (of the first half of the season).”

With what Tyler referred to as the two best practices of the year, despite ailments and injuries that limited practice time for several players, the long walk continued. Having played their toughest league opponents in the first three games, the Huskies entered the critical phase of the schedule in their bid to make the league playoffs.

And they took a giant step in that quest with a 40-30 victory on the road Friday against Central, a team they had lost to earlier in the pre-season. In this rematch, the Huskies controlled the tempo early, despite missing their first four shots underneath the basket in the first two minutes. In that same time period, however, the defense had a blocked shot and forced a Panther turnover. Brocard broke the ice with two free throws and the Huskies never relinquished the lead all night long.

With the score 6-5 at the four minute mark in the first quarter, Kaci Trask and the team defense staged an impressive streak. Trask, the point guard normally content with being the glue that holds the offense together, asserted herself as a scoring threat, knocking down the Huskies’ next six points. One field goal out of the offense, another off transition following a Brocard steal, and then a followup rebound. Meanwhile, the staunch Husky defense put on a full court press that produced seven Central turnovers in eight possessions, four of them steals by Brocard.

In the second quarter, down 16-9, Central changed strategies, alternating with a 2-3 or 1-3-1 zone in the half court. The Huskies had difficulty adjusting, making some turnovers of their own and letting the Panthers draw to within 18-17 with just over two minutes to go in the half. But the defense stepped up again, forcing two turnovers and converting them into two buckets inside, one by Brocard and the other by Angela Fentiman with three seconds to go for a 22-17 halftime lead.

Central elected to return to a man defense in the second half, but they still disrupted Sweet Home’s offense, forcing five turnovers on the Huskies’ first six possessions. Despite that, Central had no answer of their own on the offensive end. With a basket by Kara Watkins and two Brocard free throws, the lead was back up to nine and the Panthers never seriously contended again.

Sweet Home survived a scare in the third quarter when Trask had to leave the game when she was poked in the eye with three minutes left to go. But the Huskies never faltered as Teresa Lewis took over the point guard role and maintained their lead most of the way with their spread offense. When Central’s Brittany Grass hit two shots to close the lead to six in the fourth quarter, Trask reentered the game and immediately connected on her first field goal attempt.

Tyler sensed the team’s confidence level rose with that shot, and praised Trask’s overall play which kept the team composed all game long.

“The girls feel confident that when the ball is in her hands, we’re going to be able to do things,” he said. “Kaci did everything tonight but drive us there on the bus.”

Trask topped the scoring chart with 12 points on 5 for 6 from the field and 2 for 2 from the free throw line, while dishing out 3 assists. Fentiman contributed 9 points inside and 2 assists while Watkins chipped in with 5 points and 3 steals.

Brocard, always a factor on offense, tacked on 10 points, but it was her defense that impressed Tyler.

“What Kaci is to our offense,” said Tyler, referring to Trask’s stability factor, “Jessica does the same thing for us on defense.”

Brocard finished with 7 rebounds, 6 steals, and a blocked shot. Tyler also had praise for Watkins’ all-around game, especially as she and Brocard adjusted to additional positions in the post within the Husky offense, something they struggled with at Molalla.

Tyler pointed to Husky improvement against Central’s pressure, especially toward the end of the game, as evidence of their growth in mental discipline. Even within the game, it was evident. When the Huskies went into their spread offense in the first half, the Huskies succeeding in taking 30 seconds off the clock on two different occasions, but ultimately lost the ball. However, with time winding down in the fourth quarter, after a timeout to calm their nerves, Sweet Home executed the stall to perfection, drawing fouls and preventing any thought of a comeback on Central’s part.

After the timeout addressed their anxiety and reinforced what they wanted to do, Tyler saw the new look Huskies perform.

“The confidence level was so high that if you would have told them that they could jump up and rip the flag off the wall,” quipped Tyler, “they would have walked over there and tried to do it.”

It is just another part of the long, steady walk apparently as the Huskies take their newly found confidence for another step on the road again, this time to Sisters on Friday night.