Though Centennial girls basketball finished last week 2-0, coaches and players alike described it as a tough couple of days. The team needed to get back to how it played earlier in the season, and that started with Monday's visit to Wilde Lake.
Part of reverting back to Centennial's own style of play was senior Sara Downing being more instinctive with her shot, which coach Bobby Macheel said was crucial to her abilty to score. With that in mind, the senior guard put her team on her back.
Downing scored a game-high 15 points – including nine from behind the arc – and the Eagles (8-1, 9-3) got back to what they knew best, recording the 47-36 victory over Wilde Lake in the process.
“We had a couple of lapses, but I felt like we were in control the whole time,” said Macheel, whose team had a 21-point lead late in the third quarter. “I thought Sara Downing really stepped up and looked to be aggressive, which she really can be. She just hasn’t really looked for her shot…she has the ability to knock those down.”
In the first half, Downing’s scoring got off to a fast start. Within the first six minutes of the game, she knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers over multiple Wildecats (3-8, 4-9). She added a third in the second quarter, helping her team to a 16-point lead heading into halftime.
Downing, who said she took her coach’s message to heart and pulled the trigger on more shots in Monday’s game, added that her team’s defense and fast breaks helped set up the familiar feeling of an efficient scoring affair.
“I think we just told ourselves that we had to pick it up. It was just the hustle and intensity of the team,” she said. “For us, we don’t need one specific player to step up. We all just play our game, and then it converts into a win. I think all around we played well tonight, but it was our team defense that kept us in the game.”
The senior guard wasn’t alone in playing quick from the start. Wilde Lake’s first four possessions of the game were met with forced turnovers, which translated to Centennial points. By the end of the first quarter, the Eagles had a 10-point advantage. Guard Alicia Hsieh matched Downing’s six points in those eight minutes.
“I thought we moved the ball a lot better against that zone that Wilde Lake plays,” Macheel said.
Despite being in danger of losing by more than 20 points for nearly the entire contest, there were a lot of positives that Wilde Lake coach Bob Cranford said he can take away from the loss.
“We adjusted the tempo, which I really didn’t think was where it needed to be,” he said. “It’s all about playing the entire game, all four quarters. It’s about defense and finding the right combination. We’re getting there. The girls are working hard. I can’t say enough about them.”
Heading into the fourth quarter, Wilde Lake was facing a 20-point deficit. The Cats caught fire just as it was too late, outscoring the visitors 15-8, which included an 11-2 run to close out the game.
“They did a good job of putting some pressure on us in the fourth quarter, but I thought we were in control,” said Macheel, who credited the Wildecats’ ability to win the battle in the paint. Wilde Lake out-rebounded the Eagles 13-5 in the fourth quarter, and 37-29 overall. Center Lindsey Williams collected 10 points and five rebounds after missing time due to an injured knee. Alyssa Bialek had four points to go along with her 10 boards as well.
Boxing out was something that Macheel and Downing both mentioned as areas in need of improvement, especially with a match-up with undefeated Howard looming.
“I told them to just worry about us, to worry about what we’re doing and to make ourselves better every day,” Macheel said of his team staying focused despite a short rough patch. “I thought we did that tonight.”
Centennial 47, Wilde Lake 36
Cen: Sara Downing 15, Brittany Anderson 9, Alicia Hsieh 8, Anna Mitchell 6, Mary Anderson 3, Dani Wilson 2, Kimmy Eads 2, Sammie Albornoz 2.
WL: Lindsey Williams 10, Rachel Lazris 10, Alyssa Bialek 4, Rhyan Gill 3, Tranae Alexander 1, Brynn Drury 2, Becca Riley 2, Erin Riggin 2, Marissa Sciabarra 2.
Half: 30-14, Eagles.