WJ's Chili serves up 34 points as Blair loses
JAN. 13, NELSON H. KOBREN MEMORIAL GYMNAISUM —
After 32 minutes of fast-paced, spine tingling basketball the 12-point deficit on the scoreboard didn't seem to do Blair's girls basketball team justice. The undermanned Blazers came up on the short end of a thrilling back and forth contest against the Walter Johnson Wildcats, an effort not reflected in the 62-50 final score. On a night when superstars were in the spotlight, Walter Johnson's sophomore sensation Alex Chili shone a bit brighter than Blair's senior co-captain Cate Rassman in an exhilarating offensive duel. The defeat, the Blazers second in a row, dropped Blair's record to 4-8, and was a bitterly disappointing loss for a team in desperate search of relief.
It was an inspired effort for team without starter Ebony Winfield, and utilizing an exceedingly thin four-person bench, but Blair didn't have enough in the arsenal to stop the Wildcats and their sophomore scoring machine. Chili scored a game-high 34 points, and her potent outside shooting caused the Blazers to adjust their usually stingy defensive scheme.
Chili and the Wildcats established their high-powered perimeter shooting early on. Chili knocked down two three-pointers in the first quarter as Walter Johnson jumped to an 18-10 advantage with 1:00 left in the opening period. But with the seconds ticking down Blair staged a furious rally and closed the lead to 18-16 before the quarter expired. Rassman was instrumental in keeping the game close; she netted ten of her team-high 25 points in the opening session and revived the offense with two clutch jump shots in the final twenty seconds.
As the second quarter opened, a put back by senior co-captain Sara Pierce tied the game at 18 and set off a series of lead changes. Blair grabbed their largest lead of the game at 28-25 following a Pierce free throw, but Walter Johnson ended the half on a 10-1 run that propelled them to a 35-29 lead. The first half was characterized by a dizzying offensive pace that left both sides wondering how they could slow down their opposition.
The third quarter had a decidedly more defensive tone. Blair pulled within two points with 1:01 remaining at 40-38, but neither team could take control. The quarter drew to a close with the Wildcats leading at 42-38 and the table set for a deciding final period. Both teams intensified their defensive efforts by doubling down on their opponent's stand out player. Rassman and Chili often battled multiple defenders for the remainder of the contest.
However, as the fourth quarter began it was Chili again who came up with the big shot. Her three-pointer to open the period extended the Wildcat advantage to seven points and the Blazers couldn't muster enough offense to take back the lead. A free throw by senior Janay Walker cut the lead to three with 3:53 left, and the Blazers were still within striking distance, down six, with 1:32 to go. But despite their best efforts the Blazers couldn't catch up to a Walter Johnson squad that was excellent from the free throw line all night and eventually buried Blair's hopes for a comeback from the charity strike.
Blair's defensive woes were a result of their frantic attempts to slow down Chili. Because of the standout guard's excellent shooting they abandoned their usual 2-3 zone and opted for a man-to-man defense in order to challenge every shot. It was a new defensive scheme for the Blazers, and one they struggled with all night.
Coach James Mogge admitted that his team had trouble adjusting to Walter Johnson and their excellent perimeter play, "We got two different players in trouble trying to guard [Chili]. We are not as good at man to man defense as we should be," said Mogge. Eventually it was Rassman who was called on to contain Chili, and the tough defensive assignment seemed to take away from her offensive output in the second half.
Mogge added that Blair's usually sound defensive rebounding was hurt by the new defense. "There are automatic rebounds in the zone," Mogge noted, "We didn't have that tonight." Blair was also handicapped inside because of Winfield's absence. Winfield, one of the Blazers best rebounders and interior defenders, left the team for personal reasons and the date of her return has not been determined.
In her absence, Pierce had her best performance of the year, scoring 12 points and playing spectacular interior defense. However, Pierce's outstanding play wasn't enough to give the Blazers the usual height advantage they post down low with Pierce and Winfield in the line up. Without a dominating post game, the Blazers simply could not keep up with Walter Johnson's hot shooting.
While Pierce played well in the paint, and Rassman did her best from all over the court, Blair's guards appeared outmatched. Freshman point guard Jenny Williams had nine points in a solid effort but received little help. The Wildcats held senior co-captain Jessica Dubose, and Walker missed all four of her free throw attempts in a four point effort.
Blair's glaring offensive weakness was its bench. With just nine players available to him Mogge emptied his bench and tried to utilize all his resources, but it was to no avail. The Blazers didn't get a single point from their reserves, and by the end of the game Mogge was leaning heavily on a fatigued starting five to try and stage a comeback.
Although the Blazers couldn't defend their home court, Mogge was optimistic about the effort. He said Blair showed a lot of fight in the face of adversity tonight and he hopes it's something his team can build on. After looking up at the final score and shaking his head at the 12-point deficit Mogge asserted, "The score doesn't always indicate the way the game went."
Avi Wolfman-Arent. Avi Wolfman-Arent has been called many things: super genius, mega hunk and an all around cool guy; but through the praise he has remained down-to-earth and humble. At a muscular five feet nine inches he may seem intimidating when striding down Blair Boulevard, but when … More »