Northwest girls nab first victory
Cougars use fast start, heavy defensive pressure to claim 48-41 decision against BV West
There was no premature celebration from the Shawnee Mission Northwest girls Monday night.
The Cougars knew better than to do that after going 2-19 last year and losing their first five basketball games this season.
They took nothing for granted until the final buzzer sounded on their first victory of the season, a 48-41 decision against Blue Valley West at the SMNW gymnasium.
“The biggest thing with our girls is keeping them focused,” first-year Cougar coach Brian McIntosh said. “I think if I stay focused then they will, too.”
McIntosh and his players were all business, and they had to be. West rallied during the second half and made things interesting, but a fast start and an aggressive man-to-man pressure defense proved to be the difference for Northwest.
The Cougars struggled to get a handle on the ball during the opening minutes, but once they settled down they took control quickly. They forced six turnovers in the opening quarter and outscored the Jaguars 10-2 in the first quarter. Senior Elin Braendholm scored 4 points in the quarter, junior Haylee Allen had two steals and senior Alicia Watson took a charge.
The lead grew to 14-2 with 5:35 left in the second quarter as junior Erica Brand scored on a lob pass from freshman Megan Musson and Allen made a layup. Northwest forced seven more turnovers in the second quarter — including two more steals by Allen out of a full-court trap. Watson buried a three-pointer from the top of the key late in the quarter and SMNW held a 25-8 at halftime.
A side effect of the feisty defensive effort was that the Cougars also battled foul trouble. That became a factor during the second half, but not before Northwest extended its lead to 17 points.
West used a pair of three-pointers by sophomore Jackie Lybarger early in the third quarter to jumpstart the Jaguar offense, but Northwest turned to post players Braendholm, Brand and small forward Sydney Jones for the bulk of the offense as the Cougars built a 37-20 lead with a minute left in the third quarter. West freshman Erika Lark buried back-to-back treys to close the quarter, however, and suddenly the SMNW lead was down to 37-26.
Fouls became a factor in the fourth quarter as Allen, Brand and Watson all fouled out. That put the pressure on Northwest’s younger players, to close out the victory. Freshman Jessica Johnson and junior Carly Iverson did the bulk of the ball handling in the closing minutes and hit their free throws.
McIntosh praised his players for showing poise down the stretch and overcoming mistakes to secure the victory.
“It would’ve been easy for them when (the Jaguars) started to make their run to kind of throw in the towel. They didn’t do that,” McIntosh said. “They fought. They played hard. We made our mistakes, but at the same time we did some good things down the stretch.”
Braendholm led Northwest in scoring with a game-high 12 points. Also for the Cougars, Johnson had 9, Brand had 8, Jones and Iverson scored 6 apiece, Allen had 4 and Watson chipped in 3. Lybarger led West with 10 points.
The Cougars (1-5) have a couple days to enjoy the victory before trying to start a winning streak at 7 p.m. Thursday at home against Olathe East.
“These girls deserve it,” McIntosh said of the satisfaction of winning. “They’ve worked extremely hard and they’ve done everything that I’ve asked, that the coaching staff has asked of them. They come in with a good attitude and they work hard, and it’s a credit to them for hanging in there and buying in. When you’re 0-5 it’d be easy to think ‘is this really working?’ But the thing that they’ve done is they saw the small victories throughout the season. We’ve improved every day, we’ve improved every game, and it’s nice to get in that win column. We hope to keep it going.”