Pioneer girls roll over Titans, 60-44
WINCHESTER — Millbrook girls’ basketball coach Kevin Barr has noticed an unfortunate trend of slow starts from his team in recent games.
But he’s also witnessed a positive pattern in the season’s latter stages too — exceptional execution in their man-to-man defense.
The decision to embrace the latter trend made up for the former in a huge way Tuesday night.
Millbrook overcame a five-point deficit after one quarter with an intense second quarter that saw the Pioneers scorch Dominion 26-6 over those eight minutes, and Millbrook went on to a 60-44 win over Dominion in the Conference 21 quarterfinals at Casey Gymnasium.
After forgoing zone defense for a man approach in the second, the Pioneers (19-3) not only shut down Dominion’s offense — the Titans made only 2 of 12 field goals in the quarter and committed seven turnovers after having only one in the first quarter — but their defense also raised Millbrook’s level of play on offense to take a 35-20 halftime lead.
Millbrook hit 9 of 15 field goals in the second quarter and drained 3 of its nine 3-pointers (the Pioneers hit 9 of 19 overall). Brenna Cook (17 points, five 3-pointers) and Liz McDonald (14 points) each had eight points in the period, and Lauren Reed (13 points, seven assists, six rebounds) had six points.
“We needed to do something to pick up the pace of the game and pick up our energy,” said Barr, whose team will host Woodgrove — a 58-50 winner over James Wood Tuesday — in the semifinals Thursday. “We’ve relied a little too much on our zone this year — more than I’d like to run.
“But here towards the end, we’ve gotten a little better at playing man, so I feel more comfortable going to it. At the beginning of the year, we played mostly zone, but now we’re getting toward the end of the year I feel we’ve learned a little bit, and we’re in better position in man, so we can play it a little bit more than we did normally.”
Cook said it was encouraging to see how much the Pioneers were hustling after the switch to man.
“We are definitely more accustomed to playing zone, but Coach has pushed us to play tight man where we’re up on the ball,” Cook said. “I think we’re just as comfortable with man now because we are pushing ourselves more with that.”
McDonald opened the second quarter with a steal and layup, and Millbrook’s last basket of the quarter was a McDonald layup that came as a result of another Pioneer steal.
In between, Millbrook scored in a variety of ways — putbacks, drives, feeds into the post, and some impressive outside shooting.
Reed cut Dominion’s lead to 15-14 with a 3-pointer that she launched from the middle of the floor that was beyond NBA range at the 6:11 mark, and Cook followed with a 3-pointer of her own 22 seconds later to give Millbrook the lead for good at 17-16.
The Pioneers weren’t surprised that their decision to play man on defense also had an impact on its offense.
“Defense does fuel the offense, Cook said. “When we are getting those steals and fastbreaks, it definitely does push us on offense to hustle just as much.”
Dominion coach Anne Gasser — who expressed pride in her team Tuesday and for the season (the Titans unexpectedly had several seniors elect to not play this year) — thought the Pioneers were playing right into their hands in the first quarter.
“We like when teams play zone,” said Gasser, whose team was able to grab six offensive rebounds in the first quarter. “We feel like with our height and our post players, we can get shots off and get shots in the paint.
“Obviously in the second quarter, they came out with aggressiveness, and that’s been our Achilles’ heel. All season long teams have come and put pressure on us, and we kind of get back on our heels and play passive, and in the blink of an eye we’re down 10, 15 points.”
Dominion never dug into its 15-point halftime deficit, as Joneisha Cain (eight points) hit two 3-pointers in the first 37 seconds of the second half to kick-start a 10-2 run in the first three minutes.
Now, if only the Pioneers can start a game like they started the second and third quarters.
“We’ve been having trouble starting out in the first quarter,” Barr said. “We need to put that together and start out a little bit faster.
“The last four of five games, we’ve started slow in the first quarter, and had to battle our way back into it. We need to settle down and come back, and not force some things, and knock down the shots early. We’re just forcing things, and that’s really the main problem. We’ve got to realize that and cut that out.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1