Hesston may have figured out a formula to defeat the Hillsboro girls basketball team Friday in a 40-36 victory in Hesston.
The first key to the victory was attacking the post. Hesston used a vareity of players on the block. Most of the touches went to 6-foot-1 senior Kelsey Unruh, but sophomore Caylee Richardson and freshman Cami Richardson each received multiple passes in the post.
Hesston successfully completed 10 passes into the post in the game. The Swathers converted most of those opportunities into baskets or trips to the free-throw line. Hesston passed to Unruh six times in a back-and-forth second half. She led the Swathers with seven of her 10 points in the second half. Caylee Richardson scored three points in the second half, both resulting in post touches in the fourth quarter.
Another important key to victory for Hesston, although unrelated to strategy, was the health of Caylee Richardson. Caylee Richardson suffered an injury early in the Trojans’ 54-34 victory Jan. 17 during the Trojan Classic Tournament.
Although Caylee Richardson was only Hesston’s fourth leading scorer with six points, she was the player Tena Loewen was guarding. Loewen had to respect Caylee Richardson’s ability to finish at the rim, exemplified by a Loewen-esque layup in the fourth quarter where the Swather forward drove right at the Hillsboro senior as Loewen backpedaled.
With Loewen on Caylee Richardson, she could not help on the backside with either Erin Winter or Christina Morris fronting Unruh. In future matchups, head coach Nathan Hiebert wants Winter and Morris to fight to deny position.
“A game like this is going to be physical,” Hiebert said.
With Morris or Winter fronting, the Trojans surrendered five offensive rebounds in the contest. Three offensive boards went to Cami Richardson who had six rebounds total.
“There were loose balls we should have gotten,” Hiebert said.
Credit also is due to the Hesston guards, Cami Richardson, Ashley Weaver, and Ali Jost who only committed one turnover on a post-entry pass.
On the other end of the court, Hesston denied the post to Hillsboro. Hillsboro committed three turnovers in the first quarter trying to force the ball to Loewen in the post. Loewen had two post touches in the game. The first she scored on a contested layup through a double team along the baseline. On the second, she drove right at Caylee Richardson for a layup. Loewen scored seven points.
Much of Hesston’s post defense was predicated on how the Swathers defended the Trojans’ side pick and roll with Loewen and Addie Lackey, which has become Hillsboro’s signature play this season. The Loewen and Lackey pick and roll is a very difficult play to stop because it presents Hillsboro’s best two players with multiple options.
Option no.1 is Loewen rolling off the pick and setting up on the block. Hesston defended this option by not switching on the screen and denying Loewen the ball with one hand up. Option no. 2 is Lackey rolling around the screen where she can elect to drive or hit a quick pull-up jumper. Hesston’s guards, especially Cami Richardson were adept at jumping out a Lackey to deny the quick shot and then help would come on the drive down the lane.
Option No. 3, in this instance with so much attention on the ball action, would be a Hillsboro guard, either Danae Bina or Maci Schlehuber, rolling to the top of the key for a 3-pointer. This was the play Hesston was surrendering. Bina had nine points in the game, one 3-pointer.
“We dribbled in a little too deep,” Hiebert said of the pick and roll. “We needed to look for other girls spotting up.”
Despite how well Hesston played, including forcing more than 10 Hillsboro turnovers, the Trojans were still in the game up until the final buzzer, in part because of 15 points from Lackey.
The Trojans hit back-to-back baskets in the fourth quarter — a Lackey layup off a drive and a Bina steal and pull-up jumper combination — to take a 31-30 lead with about 4 minutes remaining in the game. It was Hillsboro’s first lead since the first quarter.
Then Hillsboro went into an eight-possession scoring drought. Two Hesston steals and a block allowed the Swathers to stretch the lead to 35-31. The Trojans also missed several opportunities where they would normally score. Lackey missed a 13-foot jumper along the baseline and a 10-foot pull-up jumper off a steal. Loewen misssed a contested layup off a hard drive off the elbow. Schlehuber missed a layup following a Danae Bina steal.
“We got antsy,” Hiebert said. “We had tons of opportunities.”
Lackey finally stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer with 20.4 seconds left on a side pick and roll with Loewen. With the Trojans pressing full court, the Swathers lofted a long outlet pass to Cami Richardson three-fourths of the way down the court. Lackey was called for a foul but Cami Richardson missed both free throws.
However, the Trojans could not convert on the subsequent possession, only down three points. Cami Richardson converted both free throws on a second trip to the line. Loewen scored a traditional 3-point play after picking a swatted ball out of the air with 6.4 seconds left. Unruh sealed the game with a free throw on the next Hesston possession.
It’s only the Trojans second loss of the season. It is worth noting that Hesston is ranked in 4A, but both losses have come on the road.
Hiebert believes the game will be a learning opportunity for the Trojans. Following the last loss to Sterling, the Trojans unleashed a string of dominant wins. The Trojans face Haven Friday at Haven and Haven is ranked in 3A.