Husky girls find new arsenal with zone defense

After a disappointing 49-22 loss to Cascade last week, the Husky girls basketball team was looking for new answers. They may have found the basis for that answer in a new zone defense they put on display last Friday against a tough North Marion squad.

In the final game of the first half of the season, Cascade put Sweet Home on its heels with tough full court and half court pressure, forcing 26 Husky turnovers for the game. The opening field goal by Kara Watkins gave the Huskies a brief 2-0 lead. After four Cougar free throws, Sweet Home fought to keep it close through the first quarter, trailing by only 12-8 after 6 points by Jessica Brocard.

In the second and third quarters, Cascade picked up the pressure defensively, keeping the Huskies from getting into any kind of half court offense.

“They really want to get you down and keep you on one half of the court,” said coach Mark Tyler. “Rather than bringing the pressure to us and then backing away to make a pass, we’d just dribble up and let them trap us.”

Brocard led the Huskies with 8 points and 6 rebounds followed by Angela Fentiman who contributed 5 points and 6 rebounds. Mariah Zook chipped in with 4 points.

Expecting to contend much more closely in this game, the Huskies faced new questions about the rest of the season.

“They are looking to me and I’m looking to them,” said Tyler, as he addressed the concerns for the second half of league play. “I know we can do it. What buttons need to be pushed?”

Against North Marion, they pushed a new button, one that relied on a 1-3-1 zone half court trap, something they had not done in two years. And it caught North Marion off guard.

“They hurt us when we played them last time on some screens,” said Tyler of the man-to-man defense Sweet Home employed last time. But the Huskies didn’t just want to change defenses; they wanted to trap aggressively. “For us to trap out of a man defense was going to be difficult.”

The results weren’t immediately noticeable, primarily because North Marion applied an extended man-to-man defense of their own that caused six Husky turnovers in their first six possessions. The Huskies fell behind 7-0 before Jessica Brocard scored Sweet Home’s first basket after five minutes of play on just their second attempt. However, five steals of their own with their newly found trap also kept North Marion from pulling away.

The Huskies then began to find a way to pass inside over the top of the defense to Brocard, who led the Huskies with six points as they closed to 9-8 at the end of the first quarter.

“It’s a confidence thing right there at the start,” said Tyler. “We talk about it before the game, but we’re not sure how we are going to do it instead of just coming out and getting after it.”

Cascade scored the first five points of the second quarter and used defense to gradually extend their lead to 21-10. In the last minute, the Huskies showed signs of being able to break through with good ball movement that resulted in two field goals by Kara Watkins, keeping them in contact at half, 22-14.

After exchanging baskets in the opening minutes of the second half, Cascade used free throws and some openings on the baseline for the bulk of their scoring as they pushed the lead back up to 12. But the Huskies kept coming back. They found Amanda Burcham open on the low block for 6 points and Mariah Zook went to the offensive boards twice for putbacks that once again closed the gap to eight at the end of the third quarter, 35-27.

“Those entry passes into the low post were the best I’ve seen them make,” said Tyler.

At the six and a half minute mark, Brocard scored, bringing the Huskies to within six, but that was as tight as it would get. They couldn’t overcome Cascade’s 16 for 24 performance from the free throw line, including Kristin Kahle’s 9-10 effort.

Despite losing 46-35, the Huskies outshot North Marion from the field, shooting 41% on 17-41. They held North Marion’s leading scorer, Julie Melcher, to just two points, which accounted for North Marion’s 36% from the floor. Sweet Home, however, was just 1 for 5 from the free throw line

Brocard led her Husky teammates with 14 points. Kara Watkins followed with 7 with six each from Burcham and Zook. Burcham and Angela Fentiman led the Huskies in rebounds. Both teams collected a high number of offensive rebounds. North Marion had 11 for the game while Sweet Home managed 10.

Even with the loss, the Huskies were very optimistic following the game.

“The girls know they had a good outing,” said Tyler. They know that if they play at this level and take some small steps and keep going, they are going to have some success in the second half.”

A great deal of the enthusiasm for the girls came in their whole-hearted acceptance of the half court trap out of the zone. Tyler hopes this is the button that needed to be pushed.

“I’m not a real big fan of running the zone,” said Tyler. But he noticed the girls’ excitement in its execution. “If the team is enthused about it and as long as we have success with it, then we will stay with it.”

Calendar: The Huskies took their trap on the road against Stayton yesterday and will be back at home in the early contest, 5:45 p.m., on Friday night against Molalla.