Kenton Ridge girls basketball coach Matt McCurdy knew Saturday night’s home against Tecumseh would tell him how much his team had improved since December. Because six weeks ago his team traveled to Tecumseh and lost by 23 points.
Saturday night’s game at Kenton Ridge was a complete reversal — a 63-48 Kenton Ridge victory — a confidence builder for the Cougars and confirmation for McCurdy that his team was indeed better than it was in December.
“Being at home helps quite a bit, but we’ve also had a lot more time together to grow as a team,” McCurdy said. “The girls have bought into trying to improve every single day.”
Led by senior point guard Kirsten Wiley, the Cougars (13-3, 4-2 CBC Kenton Trail) shredded Tecumseh’s zone press in the first half to build a 39-27 lead. Wiley wound her way through the press and set up open shots and driving lanes for her teammates. Mariah Baker scored 13 of her 17 points in the first half and Mallory Armentrout had 11 of her 13.
“She did a good job of being really patient,” McCurdy said. “She gave good fakes and she was strong with the basketball. And she was able to break it by herself, and I don’t think there’s too many people able to do that to them.”
McCurdy reminds his team often that limiting turnovers is a big part of being able to meet the high expectations they have for themselves. For Wiley, it was as simple as attacking the press and making good passes.
“We had a lot more confidence and we passed the ball around a lot,” she said. “If I see an open cut in the middle, I can take it and my teammates are open on the sideline so we can break it really easy.”
The Arrows (11-4, 5-1) switched to a man-to-man press in the second half and cut their deficit to 41-37 within four minutes. But the Cougars answered by leaning on the scoring and rebounding of 6-foot-2 center Mikala Morris, who scored 15 of her 21 points in the second half and grabbed almost every rebound. The lead was back to eight by the end of the quarter and was as large as 19 in the final minutes.
“I thought it did a great job,”Arrows coach Danielle Thomas said of the second-half press. “But then we stole the ball and turned it over a few times and they came down and scored.”
Thomas, however, was not happy with anything else about her team’s play. They need to fix things quickly with a home game Monday against one-loss Centerville.
“We didn’t play as a team tonight — everybody taking shots that were forced,” she said. “Defense wasn’t on point. Everything was off. Offensively everything was helter-skelter. We looked like an opening game, not a midseason one.”
For Morris, Wiley, Baker and Armentrout this was like a senior-night victory. Both teams have used this rivalry for several years to measure themselves. Tecumseh seniors Presley Griffitts and Corinne Thomas have a 5-3 advantage during their four years. But the Kenton Ridge seniors will remember that they won the last one.
“It felt really good, especially my senior year with all of my girls that I’ve played with since freshman year,” Morris said. “And plus they’re a really, really good team and we respect them a lot. So it means a lot that we could beat them.”