January 22, 2012, 4:12 p.m. Updated: 25 January 2012, 12:00 a.m.
The task was daunting.
The Shawnee Mission Northwest girls basketball team faced the home team Truman Patriots Saturday in the championship game of the 34th Annual Truman Girls Basketball Tournament. Playing the home team was challenge enough, but playing a home team featuring six-footers while the Cougars have nary a player over 5-foot-11 added an extra degree of difficulty.
The Lady Cougars were up for the task.
Using a full-court pressuring defense nearly the entire game, Northwest (9-2) forced Truman into a speed-up game and took the Patriots out of their comfort zone on the way to a commanding 61-45 victory.
“It’s big for our seniors,” Northwest head coach Jeff Dickson said. “Those kids have come a long way from 2-19, to 5-16, to 7-14. The hard work that they’ve put into it, the leadership that they’ve showed, and the toughness to show that they’ve stuck with it. For them, it’s at least a minor crowning achievement of all the hard work they’ve put in and all the sacrifices they’ve made to get here.”
The game started off in barnburner fashion, with the two teams exchanging the lead four times in the first 90 seconds. However, when senior guard Katie Biggers nailed a three from the top of the key to give Northwest a 6-4 lead, it gave Northwest the lead for the rest of the contest.
Senior guard Sarah Schmidt completed a traditional three-point-play when she converted a free throw after being fouled on a layup with 6:02 to go to make the score 9-4. That one was the first of three layups in a row by Schmidt, as her speed into the lane caught the Patriots in mismatches on defense.
After Schmidt’s third layup, the Cougars held a 13-4 lead with three minutes left in the quarter. However, Truman ended the quarter on a 6-2 run and cut the lead to five, 15-10, by the end of the first period.
Three different Cougars opened up the second quarter on a 6-0 Northwest run, and when Schmidt hit a running one-hander in the lane, the Cougars held a 21-10 edge. The lead expanded to 13 when sophomore guard McKayla Ross completed her own traditional three- point play with 1:22 left in the half to make the score 29-16, Northwest. The Patriots trimmed it to nine at 31-22 before a huge exchange with just 0:00.8 left on the clock.
In the final second of the first half, Northwest senior post Sydney Thompson was fouled going up for a shot off an offensive rebound. With eight tenths of a second left, Thompson nailed the first charity toss, but her second came careening off to Biggers. Instead of grabbing the rebound, Biggers tapped it towards freshman post Tracy Monahan who calmly laid it in before the buzzer sounded, turning a one-point trip into a three-point trip and giving the Lady Cougars a 34-22 halftime edge.
The scoring pace slowed considerably in the third quarter as the Patriots turned up their defense, forcing the Cougars to work harder to find open scorers. However, Northwest still was able to nudge up their advantage, ending the quarter on a 7-0 run and holding the Patriots scoreless for the last five minutes of the period. Ross’s driving right baseline jumper with 2:18 left in the third gave Northwest an 18-point, 44-26 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Riggs opened the final quarter with a right-corner three off an assist from Ross and the Cougars never looked back. The Cougars went 10-of-14 from the free throw line over the game’s final six minutes to seal the win.
“It feels really great,” Biggers said after the win. “We really wanted to pressure them and make them go quicker than normal and steal some fast break points.”
Biggers also talked about how special the tourney title was for the group of four Cougar seniors — herself, Schmidt, Jessica Johnson, and Mary Slattery.
“Me and Jess and Sarah and Mary have never gotten (a title win) like with this tourney,” Biggers said. “We’ve always been seventh or eighth place. So coming out and winning this our senior year makes it so much special.”
Biggers led all Cougar scorers with 17 points to go along with her four assists. Ross added 11 points to go with her four assists, three boards, and three steals, while Schmidt added another 11 points and four rebounds. Johnson contributed eight points and two pilfers; junior guard Kristina Purinton recorded six points and two boards, while Thompson contributed three points and a team-high eight rebounds.
The Cougars head back into Sunflower League play at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Shawnee Mission East (5-3).
Originally published at: http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2012/jan/22/sm-northwest-girls-win-truman-tournament-improve-9/