December 16th, 2011

Assumption Not Enough To Handle Manual

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Paul Najjar

Senior Writer

Assumption Not Enough To Handle Manual
photo by Paul Najjar

Rockets lose to state contender, but head in right direction     

What a difference a year makes. Though the Assumption Rockets basketball team lost to the DuPont Manual Lady Crimsons 82-48 Friday evening, it was exactly 51 weeks ago that the team was dealing with a mid-season coaching change and a drubbing at the hands of the Lady Crimsons.

Don’t let Friday’s score fool you, the Rockets have a come a long, long way since that game. And they’re improving every time they take the court.

Manual, ranked in the top 50 nationally, began the game with their full court pressure and utilized their superior athleticism to take an 18-4 lead midway through the first quarter. The Rockets had some difficulty adjusting to the tempo and the Crimsons overall team speed. But once the Rockets adjusted to the speed of the game later in the second quarter, they were able to find open shots and make the game competitive.

“They are very, very well organized and a team of great athletes,” said Assumption head coach Steve Small. “All three of our teams, freshmen, JV and varsity, started their games like they were a deer in headlights. But what was really good was the way we came out in the second half. Our girls went toe-to-toe with probably the best team in the state in that quarter.”

Down 41-10 midway through the second quarter, and having no luck stopping Manual’s dynamic senior point guard April Wilson (a Purdue commit), Small called a timeout and challenged his team to give a stronger effort. The Rockets responded with a 10-4 run to go into halftime down 45-20.

The Rockets gave up two quick baskets to Wilson and another to senior guard Kara Wright (a SW Missouri State commit), before they regained their stride. Junior guard Brandy Hunter hit a three and then two free throws on the next possession. Freshman Nora Kiesler scored twice inside and senior Morgan Foley added a layup to force Manual to call at timeout.

The Rockets continued their run with a rebound put-back by junior forward Katie Friedrich and a layup from junior guard Alyx White.

In just four minutes of action, the Rockets outscored Manual 15-9.

“We learned a lot tonight,” said Small. “We showed signs of moving forward tonight. We forced them to call two timeouts in the third quarter and he got after his girls to turn up the heat on us. We just weren’t ready for that much athleticism because honestly, we haven’t played anyone with that much athleticism.”

And Manual possesses not just athleticism, but real talent. Coach Stacy Pendleton’s squad has four seniors and every one of them will move on to play Division I basketball next year. They are one of the top teams in the state and a strong contender for the state title.

But the young Rockets are a deep squad. Small plays 10 to 12 players or more every game. He wants every player to be able to answer his call and contribute to the team’s success.

“We’ve done this every game,” he said. “These girls made the team, so they have to contribute. We talked about determination and challenged the girls to go out on the perimeter and guard them. I told them that I think we’re better than you think you are, so let’s get after them and extend our defense and play.”

Assumption turned that 45-20 halftime deficit into 37-28 battle in the second half. And they kept that third quarter very competitive, dropping it by a 21-18 score.

“We challenged the girls to hold them to 35 points in the second half and we allowed 37,” said Small. “While our turnovers hurt us, our goal is to keep improving. You’re not on this team to sit and watch, you’re here to play and you have to play through your mistakes.”

Manual forced 34 Assumption turnovers and it was plain to see that the Rockets were overmatched at times. Wilson led all scorers with 24 points. Twelve Manual players scored with Lauren Bodine (a Maine commit) netting 13 and Leaisa Wright scoring 10.

The Rockets got solid minutes from several players off the bench as well. It was just a few short stretches of mistake-prone basketball that kept them from being more competitive.

“I’m not going to give up on these girls,” said Small. “Erin (Mullen) provided a big spark for us and so did several others. I’m going to keep coming back to them if they keep putting forth the effort and keep playing with passion.”

Friedrich, who played an all-around good game for the Rockets, led the Rockets with 13 points and pulled down 5 rebounds, while Kiesler chipped in with a double-double scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Assumption was 18-37 (48.6 percent) from the floor and 11-of-19 (59) from the free throw line. Though they outrebounded Manual 31-25, they allowed the Crimsons to shoot 54 percent from the field.

The Rockets next game will be on Monday at the Republic Bank Holiday Classic in Lexington.


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