Cloudy
62°
Cloudy
Hi 71° | Lo 46°

Olympians Are Zoned Out

U-32’s New-Look D Sends O’s to 1st Loss

  • U-32's Krista Towne (5), left, and Madison Bennett, (22), fight for the rebound with Oxbow's Savannah Fay during the Union 32 at Oxbow girls basketball game in Bradford, Vt.,  on Jan. 7, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    U-32's Krista Towne (5), left, and Madison Bennett, (22), fight for the rebound with Oxbow's Savannah Fay during the Union 32 at Oxbow girls basketball game in Bradford, Vt., on Jan. 7, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow's Morgan Brill concentrates while shooting a free throw during the Union 32 at Oxbow girls basketball game in Bradford, Vt.,  on Jan. 7, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Oxbow's Morgan Brill concentrates while shooting a free throw during the Union 32 at Oxbow girls basketball game in Bradford, Vt., on Jan. 7, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • U-32's Krista Towne (5), left, and Madison Bennett, (22), fight for the rebound with Oxbow's Savannah Fay during the Union 32 at Oxbow girls basketball game in Bradford, Vt.,  on Jan. 7, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Oxbow's Morgan Brill concentrates while shooting a free throw during the Union 32 at Oxbow girls basketball game in Bradford, Vt.,  on Jan. 7, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Bradford, Vt. — The Union-32 High girls basketball team waited until Tuesday night’s game at Oxbow to try a zone defensive scheme. Looking at the results on the floor, the Raiders should run it more often.

Clogging the paint as much as the baseline in 2-3 coverage, U-32 forced 23 Olympians’ turnovers and held the hosts to just 10-of-37 shooting in a 33-26 win at Mona Garone Gym.

Oxbow (6-1), which plays in Vermont Division III, was held to its fewest points since a 35-26 home loss to the Raiders in January of last season. Union-32 went on to the D-II semifinals before moving to D-I, where they now sit in fourth place after improving to 6-2 Tuesday.

The Raiders returned just one starter from last year’s 21-2 team, lanky senior center Madison Bennett. She had 10 of her game-high 15 points in the first half before sitting out the whole third quarter with two fouls.

The strategy worked for U-32, which extended an eight-point halftime lead to 26-14 while forcing eight turnovers in the period.

The Raiders also shot poorly (12-of-46), but largely shut down Oxbow center Mikayla Hodge. Hodge, who averaged nearly 20 points per game before tipoff, was held to just six through three quarters and her 12 tied her season low.

Hodge finished with a game-high seven rebounds, but the O’s were out-played on the boards, 23-15. Union-32 was also quicker to the ball for much of the night, though Oxbow coach Barry Emerson didn’t think their speed is what confounded his squad the most.

“We’ve played quicker teams this year and had better success,” said Emerson, in his first season with the Olympian girls after two earlier stints with Oxbow’s boys team.

“That was the tallest, lankiest team we’ve played this year and I think we struggled with that. ... Our shots weren’t falling for us and we didn’t get to the line (6-for-9) very much.”

Union-32 never trailed, opening with the night’s lone 3-pointer from Kaylee Herring as part of a 7-2 run. Morgan Brill sank a layup and Hodge hit a pair of jumpers from the top of the key to pull Oxbow within 9-8 late in the first quarter.

Despite the 6-2 run, an unfavorable pattern was emerging for Oxbow. Normally a force underneath, Hodge was unable to penetrate while doubled up in the paint against the Raiders.

She missed her third shot from the top of the paint and didn’t score again until a pair of free throws 90 seconds before halftime.

“She can hit (post-up jumpers), but I don’t think it’s any secret that we try to get her going inside,” Emerson said.

At least Hodge stayed out of foul trouble. The same couldn’t be said for her U-32 counterpart, Bennett, who left with 10 points and five rebounds after drawing her second foul late in the first half.

Saving their star for the stretch run paid off for the Raiders. Bennett returned in the fourth to score five more points, play a hand in several Oxbow turnovers and pull down a key offensive rebound as the O’s attempted to rally.

“We knew it was going to be a physical game. It’s never easy to come in here and play Oxbow,” third-year U-32 coach Travis Paquet said. “(Bennett) got in foul trouble, but we’ve sat her (in the third quarter) before and it hasn’t hurt us.”

With four first-year starters, the Raiders have been working on zone schemes in practice recently after having mixed results in man-to-man coverage.

“We’ve made some mistakes defensively this year. We’ve got a young team,” Paquet said. “We mixed in the 2-3 zone with the full-court press tonight and it seemed to help us.”

Oxbow played with vigor in the fourth quarter and got as close as five points. Hodge scored six in the period, and senior Lauren Tomlinson set up baskets by Dahlia Klarich and Sabrina French to cap a 10-3 Olympians run, pulling them within 29-24 with 1:30 to play.

Klarich forced a turnover on the inbounds pass following French’s basket, but the Oxbow turned it over right back with a five-second violation.

Nursing its two-possession lead, U-32 missed three straight free throw attempts, but sank three of its last four to seal the win.

The Olympians don’t have much time to recover, hosting Lamoille tonight in a makeup game.

Free Throws: Emerson is Oxbow’s third coach in three seasons. The O’s won the D-III title in 2012, but went 7-14 in Felicia Kingsbury’s only season last year. ... Union-32 had an 11-4 advantage on the offensive glass. ... In lieu of a 50/50 raffle, a donation jar was passed around to help raise money for the family of Cooper Pierson, an Oxbow junior injured seriously in an auto accident Dec. 26.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.