Bobcats win battle of top 4A girls teams
Thursday night's semifinal game of the Bobcat Basketball Invitational featured a little bit of everything: two top-five teams in the state, bodies hitting the floor, coaches stomping and yelling, and a packed gym that stayed after a maligned trio of referees.
When the dust settled, Basehor-Linwood was left standing with a physical 38-32 win over Holton.
The Bobcats trailed 16-14 at halftime and struggled mightily to get their imposing offense off the ground. BLHS, however, came out of halftime possessed. They went on a 17-5 run over the duration of the third quarter to take control of the game.
"I'm not going to lie: halftime wasn't pretty," coach Noah Simpson said. "We got a vocal and a little stern. We pretty much just challenged them to play like they know how to play."
Point guard Brooke Sanders said the team had to start playing like it had practiced.
"We were nervous, we were scared, we were playing like we didn't know what we were doing," Sanders said.
BLHS star center Cassie Lombardino was in foul trouble throughout the game. When she headed to the bench after her fourth foul, with the game still close, Simpson told her, "I need you to finish this game, no matter what. I need you to play hard and need you to play smart." Lombardino fouled out with 40 seconds left; the game already out of Holton's grasp.
"It really forces you to coach when that happens," Simpson said. "Our height went away, so our rebounding went away. That was a concern, but I have confidence in every girl we put out there."
Holton played man defense throughout the game, a stark contrast for the Lady 'Cats - they are used to seeing teams employ a zone to pack the middle in an attempt to take away Lombardino.
"They are so quick defensively that they really gave us fits early trying to get the ball inside," Simpson said. "We tried to run some isolation to Cassie to get her the ball down low, but their guard pressure was so heavy that we couldn't do it. At that point, we told the guards that they had to drive-if they are going to play that far out, we have to drive and get to the basket."
Sanders helped in that effort, finishing with 10 points, three assists, and three rebounds. Lombardino finished with nine points and nine rebounds. Courtney Hooks scored four points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Ashley Jeannin, at 5 feet 5 inches, was also surprisingly effective on the boards, grabbing eight and dishing three assists.
"I always try to be an offensive threat," Sanders said. "Someone had to do it, because Cassie wasn't in the game."
Simpson said he loves to play fast paced, but he liked the fact that BLHS was able to slow down the pace and "play with the best in the state."
Simpson was more animated than usual on the sidelines. When the buzzer sounded, he punched the air and yelled, "Yes!"
"These girls deserve to win games because they work so hard. That's it," Simpson said. "It isn't about me, it's about them. I told the girls, sooner or later they are going to realize that I am very passionate about this. It's not necessarily passionate about the game; it's passionate about them and their success."
Sanders said the win was big. "It was huge because they are undefeated and they are ranked five in the state and we are four," Sanders said. "We proved we were the better team tonight."