Defense wins!

Panthers go man-to-man to seal 11th win

WLH0056 The Paola Panther Girls Basketball squad kept its perfect record intact for another night as they took a hard fought 48-34 victory over the Topeka Hayden High School Wildcats in semi-final action at the Burlington Invitational Basketball Tournament on Friday, January 23, 2009.

The Panthers got solid play from just about all of its parts on Friday night, as senior Taelor Karr turned in maybe her best overall performance of the season. The K-State bound Karr scored, rebounded, moved the ball around the floor and defended as well as she has all season long, as the Panthers turned a two point first quarter deficit into a four point half time lead and then used a suffocating man to man defense in the third quarter to blow the game open, leading by 18 points with only one period to play. Hayden rode a hot hand by Aubree Luebbe who hit eight quick points in the period including a long range, banking three pointer with just under five minutes to play and two free throws by Sam Tenpenny to cut the lead to twelve, but that was as close as the ‘Cats would come.

The Panthers started a little slow, as Hayden used a basket by Tenpenny and two threes from Luebbe around a three by Karr to open an 8-3 lead. Rachel Hanf hit a bucket and a free throw and Megan Hayes added a free throw to counter a single free throw from Tenpenny and the Wildcats closed the first period with a slim two point advantage at 9-7.

The Panthers pulled even again at the outset of the second quarter on a basket by Hayes. But Hayden answered and opened a quick five point lead on a basket by Nicole Federico and a trey from Michelle Sommer. The Panthers countered with buckets by Hayes and Ashlee Johnson to pull back to within one at 14-13. The Panthers seized control of the game in the final three and a half minutes of the half. Following a time out with 3:26 to play, a three point play by Karr gave the Panthers a lead again, one they would never relinquish. A short time later Karr nailed a three pointer to open a five point 19-14 lead.

Hayden’s Sommer hit a three to cut the lead to 19-17, but Rachel Schmidt and Hayes hit baskets down the stretch to give the Panthers a slim, six point, 23-17 lead going into the locker room at intermission.

If the Panthers seized control of the game in the last three and a half minutes of the first half, they may have salted it away in the first two and half minutes of the second half. Coming out of the break, Taylor Smith nailed a jumper and Karr hit a short time later and then Johnson made the second of two free throws and just like that, the Panther lead had ballooned from six to 11 points at 28-17.

WLH0044 Tenpenny hit a field goal to cut the lead to nine, before Karr answered for the Panthers and the lead was back to 11. Luebbe nailed another three pointer to cut the Panther lead to eight at 30-22, but if the Wildcats were entertaining any idea of getting back into the game, they quickly faded away in the final minutes of the third quarter. After Luebbe’s trey, it was all Panthers, as Karr hit another field goal, Kayla Offutt hit a basket and Hanf hit two threes and a just for good measure flying layup at the buzzer to give the Panthers a whopping 42-24 lead.

The Panthers used a tight, man to man defense to completely take Hayden out of its offense, creating turnovers and easy buckets.

Hayden tried to make things interesting in the early stages of the fourth period, as Luebbe hit two more treys and a two pointer in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, which were answered by two free throws by Karr and a basket by Hayes, which cut the Panther lead to 14 at 46-32. Tenpenny hit two free throws to get the ‘Cats to within 12, but that was as close as they would come, as Johnson hit a basket to give the Panthers their final margin.

“You’ve got to understand how good a team that was,” Panther Head Coach Stuart Ross told his team after the game. “You have to look at the kind of competition they play against every game.”

But Ross was sure to keep his team grounded and focused on the task at hand, one more game for another tournament championship.

“What you’ve done is play yourselves into a position to win a championship,” Ross said. “The fact of the matter is that you will play either Labette County or Iola tomorrow night.”

As it turns out, the Panthers will take on the Labette County High School Grizzlies in the championship game of the tournament at 3:10 on Saturday. The Grizzlies are no stranger to the championship game, as the Grizzlies have appeared in the championship game ten times in the first fifteen years of the event, including six titles.