Defense lifts PBL
CHAMPAIGN — As he prepared to leave the court after the conclusion of an opening-round regional game at St. Thomas More on Monday, Oakwood coach Rick Bough shot a glance toward Paxton-Buckley-Loda counterpart Travis Duley.
"That press killed us," Bough told Duley.
It was about as quickly and efficiently as you could sum up the story of the game. Trailing 10-9 after the first quarter, the Panthers switched from a 2-3 zone to a full-court man-to-man defense. Eventually, the pressure forced fifth-seeded Oakwood to play faster than it wanted, and the result was fourth-seeded PBL pulling away for a 60-39 win.
In all, the Panthers finished with 20 steals, a game-high nine of which were by junior guard Amanda Ypya, who also had six points and eight rebounds.
"We just did that to get some more energy," Duley said. "We weren't doing anything tricky out of it — just get out on them."
"They picked up the tempo. They harassed us, and we made some mistakes. We turned the ball over too much. Against a team like this, they're going to exploit this," Bough added.
The game was still close late into the second quarter. Leading 23-20 with two minutes left until half, PBL finished the quarter on a 7-2 spurt, then opened the second half on an 18-3 run.
The scoring output came from a variety of sources, as the Panthers (18-9) had seven players record at least six points. Junior forward Kandace Hofer had a team-high 12 points off the bench, and fellow reserve Catlyn Ekstrom had nine points, as did Chelsea Link.
"If we can continue to get that balance, that'll be good," said Duley, noting more teams have started keying on leading scorer Cheyenne Weber.
The Comets (11-18) were led by senior Makenzie Baker's game-high 18 points, and they also got a game-high 15 rebounds from Harlena Hardin. They were hurt by nine third-quarter turnovers.
"I thought we played well most of the first half," Bough said. "They came out playing really well in the second half, and we didn't handle it well."
PBL advanced to Thursday's semifinal matchup against host and top-seeded St. Thomas More. The Panthers have lost to the Sabers by 30-plus points twice this season.
"You got to look at it and go, 'The first time we were down six at half, and the second time we were down four at half.' They just made better second-half adjustments than we did," Duley said. "We're going to have to switch some things up."