In a year where Unioto is trying to become the first SVC girlsâ€™ basketball team to ever win four straight SVC championships, the Lady Shermans have certainly faced some adversity. Saturday â€“ nearly a must-win if the purple and gold were to win it all in 2010-2011 â€“ Unioto took a major step to position themselves for the stretch run. A loss would have meant Unioto would drop to third place, two full games behind Adena. Now, with the 58-37 win, Unioto is tied in first-place with both Adena and Zane Trace, and the second half schedule completely favors Unioto as Adena, Zane Trace, and Piketon will all visit Frenchtown during the second league round.
As for Saturdayâ€™s win, I thought a key element to Uniotoâ€™s game plan was its emphasis on the defensive glass. Earlier this week, I watched Adena host Piketon, and the Lady Warriors dominated the Lady Redstreaks on the offensive glass. Because that was a make-up game, Uniotoâ€™s team and Coach Driggs was able to scout that game. In todayâ€™s early going, you could tell that all five Unioto defenders â€“ especially their guards - were making a conscious effort to limit Adena to one shot and out. It was this solid positioning that forced a Jenny Grigsby over-the-back foul with 2:54 remaining in the first quarter that really limited how much the Adena sophomore would play in the final nine minutes of the first half. Grigsby would later hurt Unioto some on the offensive glass, but I felt this early attention to detail really focused Unioto for what proved to be one of the more impressive defensive performances that I have seen this season.
Unioto immediately took advantage. Uniotoâ€™s Hannah Miller â€“ who ended with 16 points - was able to get going in the middle scoring a couple early buckets, and a big three-pointer from the right wing from Mallory Retherford helped Unioto to a 14-4 run that turned a 7-2 deficit into a 16-11 lead after one period of play.
The second quarter started as if Unioto was going to take control. The Shermans were in the bonus and the free throw line helped them stretch the lead to eight. Both coaches were forced to handle foul trouble as Coach Cox was trying to spot Grigsby back into the game with two fouls, and Uniotoâ€™s Janae Driggs picked up her second foul just 30 seconds into the second quarter which forced her to sit some as well. Adena got a big spark from point guard Autumn Smith. Smith scored all eight of her points in the first half â€“ the final two coming on a big time drive, jump stop, and score that cut the Unioto lead to 31- 26 at halftime.
Plays like the great one from Smith and a few nice plays from role players Natalie Cooper and Alyssa Dawson kept Adena close, but I felt going into the second half that if Adena didnâ€™t find a way to create some easier baskets, they were going to have trouble making up the deficit. Offensively, it just never happened for Adena as Uniotoâ€™s defense locked down the Lady Warriors allowing just 11 points in the second half.
I will say the final score was somewhat deceiving because Adena didnâ€™t go away until really late in the fourth quarter. In the third period, Unioto stretched the lead to nine, but a Grigsby put-back bucket and an old-fashion three from Brytan Givens â€“ who led Adena with a team-high 12 points â€“ quickly got Adena back within four at 35-31. The game remained tight and eventually saw Unioto up 41-36 when the gameâ€™s final key sequence allowed Unioto to take control for good. The sequence started with Adena having a lay-up on one end that would have cut it to 41-38. Adena missed the lay-up and Unioto answered with back-to-back buckets by Retherford and Maddie Davis, so instead of the lead being down to one possession, Unioto had now stretched it to nine at 45-36. The Unioto defense took care of things from this point allowing just one point the rest of the way out. With Uniotoâ€™s defense playing such a key role it would be unfair not to mention some other role players. Morgan Gumm did an outstanding job on Smith. Smith did have a nice first half, but Gumm was able to limit the times she was able to penetrate to the middle. Freshman Tori Cox, who has been asked to take on a bigger role since Mackenzie Arledgeâ€™s injury, looked much more comfortable today than earlier in the year, and she impacted the game defensively in the paint. Other athletes like Ashley Flautt and Davis also give Coach Driggs some really athletic combinations.
The other significant play in the second half came from Driggs. The senior, who ended with a game-high 22 points, became the 49th girl in SVC history to score 1,000 career points. The milestone basket came on an assist from Miller as Driggs made a nice basket cut and finished with the right-handed lay-up. SVC fans, you can track Driggs and her climb up the all-time list on SVCsportszone.com by checking out our 1,000 Point Club . . . CLICK HERE TO TAKE A LOOK!