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Girls basketball: Indians use defense, rebounding to stymie Cougars

JOLIET – Although there’s a different look to Minooka’s girls basketball team this season, the goal is to continue to follow some of the same strategies that have led to success for the Indians in recent seasons.

Coach Jeff Easthon has taken over for longtime coach Ray Liberatore and wants to continue to see the program stress playing good defense to lead to more opportunities on the offensive end of the court.

While the Indians weren’t as sharp as they need to be with their ballhandling in Thursday’s Southwest Prairie Conference game at Plainfield South, their defense helped to limit the Cougars to no field goals in the first quarter and just five heading into the fourth quarter.

Thanks to that solid defensive play and a big edge in rebounding, Minooka expanded on a 23-12 halftime advantage to capture a 57-30 victory at South in the latest matchup of the Ridge Road rivalry.

Minooka (7-1, 3-0) jumped out to an early 8-0 lead and was in in front, 14-1, after one quarter, after the Cougars (3-4, 1-2) missed all 16 of their shots in the first quarter.

While South did a nice job of coming back in the second quarter, the exertion of trying to rally from such a big deficit early on made them look out of gas as the game went on, and Minooka moved in front by as many as 30 points in the late going.

“The girls played hard,” Easthon said. “I’m not all that happy with the way we played, since it was sloppy and we got a lot of baskets off of deflections or lucky rolls to us. But when you beat a team like Plainfield South, you’ll take it. We work on defense every day in practice and spend a 30 or 45 minutes working on the defensive fundamentals. But we’ve got to clean up a bunch of things offensively, since we’re not a good offensive team now, since we’re struggling.”

Cierra Bachmann turned in a big performance for the Indians, leading the way with 13 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, with much of that coming in the second half.

Other leaders for Minooka, whose lone loss this season came against Wheaton North, were Savannah Johnson (11 points), Allison Bugajski
(10 points) and Sophie Darden (eight points, 10 rebounds).

“During practice we’ve just been focusing on conditioning and getting up and down the court to stay defensively on top of our opponents,” Bachmann said. “We really want to be aggressive on defense, because we want to pressure them so they’ll make turnovers. Our offense this is year is very adaptable, so when we see a 2-3 zone, we’re able to change our offense and then are able to score. As we keep facing more opponents, it will help us against some of the conference teams that we’ll have coming up.”

South was paced by Shannon Smith with 14 points, which led all scorers. She scored nine of those in the first half to help her team close the gap to
11 points at halftime.

But Minooka began to re-establish control in the third quarter when Bachmann scored five points and Darden added four more to give it a 37-20 lead with eight minutes left. South also struggled from the floor in that quarter, making just one basket.

“Team defense and rebounding is a key for us in winning games,” Darden said. “When the ball is moving around and everyone is getting shots, that’s when we win games. Our team chemistry is a lot better than I thought it would be coming into the season with a new coach, so I’m happy about that.”

The Indians received scoring from a variety of players in the final quarter, and they began to pull away, making the final score not reflective of how most of the rest of the game had been.

“Part of it was that we spent so much energy in the second quarter when I thought we did a phenomenal job defensively to get back in it,” Cougars coach Lincoln DePaula said. “Our game plan was to disrupt the flow, because as you saw in the fourth quarter, they put on a passing clinic. We just have to score, and that’s the bottom line. We knew that we had to earn everything, and the frustrating thing is that we didn’t execute the game plan.”