Panthers must play patient, smart to move on
The Storm Lake-St. Mary's girls basketball team has been inhabiting uncharted waters since setting a regular season school record for wins with its 16th victory earlier this week.
The win was a Class 1A, district semifinal victory over Alta (57-50) Monday, and it advanced a still youthful Panther team to a district final date with Sac City tonight in Alta.
"We had high goals at the beginning of the season," said Panther coach Ryan Berg Thursday night.
St. Mary's fell a game short of winning a conference title, but perhaps a more important goal - going deep into the district/region tournament - is still within range.
Tonight's game at the Alta Middle School pits two Northwest Conference rivals who have already played twice and split.
The Panthers beat Sac City 50-46 on the Indians' home court Jan. 3. In a battle for a share of the conference title Feb. 4 in Storm Lake, Sac City returned the favor with a 66-48 win over the Panthers.
"The first time we played them we were a little more hyped up and everybody stepped it up a notch," said St. Mary's' leading scorer Abby Richardson.
"The second time came at the end of a long homecoming week, and we just didn't play that well," she said.
Tonight will be the rubber match, with the winner advancing to the 1A, Region 2 semifinals next Tuesday in Manilla.
"I think our team feels we can pull it out if we play tough defense and keep our heads and play patient on offense," Richardson added.
In game one, Sac City made just one three-point shot and two of its normal starters - leading scorer Dani Berry and shooting guard Adrianne Point - were scratched from the starting lineup but did see action during the game.
"We got them in some early foul trouble, and it hurt them that night," Berg said. "We had good balance in our scoring; I think Abby had 26, Coleen (Smith) had 12 points and Jess (Lussman) had eight."
Berg said in the second meeting, Sac City was much more aggressive on offense.
"Their guards were getting a lot of dribble penetration and if they weren't open, they'd kick it back to the perimeter," he said. "And they made seven three-pointers.
"On offense, we weren't as disciplined or as patient as we wanted to be. We shot too quickly on most possessions, and made some poor decisions that resulted in a lot of turnovers."
Saturday night's matchup in Alta will feature two similar teams, with both able to score from inside or the perimeter.
Berg will start Richardson at the point, Lussman at the shooting guard, Smith at the small forward and Janie Imming and Cassie Weaver at the four and five positions, respectively.
Richardson averages 17.5 points per game (ppg), 4.7 rebounds, four assists per contest and four steals. Weaver averages 8.1 points and 6.8 rebounds pg., while Lussman averages 7.4 ppg. Imming averages about six ppg but pulls down 6.1 rebounds pg. with Smith averaging 4.4 ppg.
The Panthers have excellent depth off the bench with gaurd Becky Lenhart and senior post player Maggie Lange first off the bench.
Berg added that his team prefers a slower pace, and hopes to force Sac City into a half-court game.
"Each team knows what the other wants to do by now," the coach added. "I think whichever team is able to make the right adjustments during the game will have the advantage."
Sac City does have an edge in experience, including post-season games. Indian coach Mike Fischer will start 5-10 senior Dani Berry at the point, 5-4 junior Adrianne Point at the shooting guard, 5-6 Carrie Duffy at the small forward and 5-11 senior Jenna Crabb and 5-11 junior Amy Blass at posts.
Berry leads the Tribe in scoring, averaging 15 ppg., while Crabb and Blass average 9 ppg., Duffy 8 ppg. and Point six ppg. Blass averages a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game.
Fischer said his top concern is defending Panther guards Richardson and Lussman.
"Abby's just a great player; she can beat you in a lot of ways, including with the three-pointer and through dribble penetration," he said. "Lussman is athletic and her quickness could cause us some problems.
"Offensively, I think we'd like a little faster pace than St. Mary's might. Our real key on offense is just to execute well."
With Weaver, Imming and Lange - all in the 5-10 range - the Panthers have been a good rebounding team and can score underneath as well.
"I"m just more concerned with St. Mary's guards," Fischer added. "We have some girls in the blocks who've handled similar teams pretty well."
Added Berg: "We'll also have to play a smart game defensively, particularly in limiting their second chance points on the blocks. Sac City goes hard after rebounds, so we'll have to stay in position do the same."
Both coaches are expecting a hard-fought, close game.
"This is is an interesting matchup and should be a fun game to watch," Fischer added. "Sometimes it's pretty simple and comes down to which team hits big shots at key times."