Lady Lakers give top-ranked G-NG major scare in hoop semis
By Wayne E. Rivet
PORTLAND — As Patriot forward Skye Conley made a hard drive to the rim, Laker defenders Melody Millett and Lauren Jakobs did exactly what they were taught.
They stood tall.
They raised their arms straight up.
They didn’t budge.
With 2:09 left in last Thursday’s Class B semifinal, Conley tried to split the two defenders, created contact and managed to draw a critical two-shot foul.
The Patriot senior made 1-of-2 from the foul line, but it proved to be the game winner as top-ranked Gray-New Gloucester (19-1) survived a real scare by a feisty Lake Region team, 33-29 at the Cross Arena in Portland.
The Patriots defeated Lincoln Academy to advance to the state finals for the second straight year. The Pats will meet Houlton, the East champ (19-1), who defeated G-NG 48-35 a year ago for the gold ball. UPDATE: Gray-New Gloucester won its first girls’ state basketball title with a win over Houlton.
Conley was the game’s high scorer and only shooter to reach double-digits, 12 points. Her work in the lane was the difference as Conley went to the foul line 8 times, sinking six attempts. Lake Region, which was rewarded for its aggressive takes in the quarterfinal win over Yarmouth, continued to attack the lane, but this time went to the charity stripe just three times.
At two critical junctures, the Lakers got little help from the men in black. Senior Melody Millet was surrounded by three G-NG defenders in the lane with 1:12 left, and her shot sailed out of bounds. Laker Coach Paul True looked for either a foul on the play or at least expected to retain possession on what appeared to be a blocked shot by Conley. He got neither.
After Brianna Jordan made the Lakers pay with a layup with 45.2 seconds on a busted coverage off an inbounds play at midcourt to put G-NG up 32-29, the Lakers had two chances to tighten the game.
Sophomore Brooke Harriman came up a little short on a strong move to the rim with 22.4 seconds left, and junior Chandler True drove to the bucket with 9.9 seconds. LR got the whistle, but the game official ruled the foul came before True attempted a shot.
Give the Patriots some credit too. The Lakers tied the game 29-29 with 5:34 left to play when Jakobs dished the ball back outside to True, who was wide open on the left wing and connected for a 3-pointer. Those 3 points were the only points the Lakers would muster.
“I was surprised we were held to 3 points — single digits, that wouldn’t have surprised me based on how the game had been played — especially because of how physical they were. At the very least, I thought we would get to the free-throw line to score more than 3 points,” a dejected Coach True said.
The Lakers went to the line just once in the second half — none in the deciding fourth quarter.
On Conley’s drive and ensuing foul call, Coach True said, “People say that’s part of the game to deal with some adversity, and calls aren’t always going to go your way. All that is true. But unfortunately, it really gets amplified when you are talking about a one possession game in the last two or three minutes. Those types of calls really matter and make a difference. Again, to our players’ credit, they handled it well. Defensively, I thought they were positioned well, played well and it just didn’t go our way.”
Facing the defending South champs, the Lakers certainly gave the Patriots a serious run for their money for the second straight year.
“I thought for most of the game, we had them really frustrated with what they were trying to do. Our kids did a nice job of taking away some of those options,” Coach True said. “Unfortunately for us, it’s two years in a row that we lost in the semis — in an overtime game, which we had the ball on the last possession and this one, which I thought we were in really good shape entering the fourth period.”
Like their regular season meeting, the first half was a defensive battle. The Lakers were a little shaky out of the gate, committing seven turnovers to fall behind 7-2.
“There was no question that nerves played a part early on. We made some execution-type mistakes that can be attributed to that atmosphere,” Coach True said. “Again, I was very happy with the way we defended and the way we competed, which obviously kept us in the game.”
Although the Lakers lost to the Patriots by double digits in the regular season game, Coach True felt confident that his club could spring a major upset if they played solid defense throughout and kept pace offensively.
“I didn’t think a whole lot needed to change. I thought the game wasn’t managed very well at Gray-New Gloucester. I felt it made a huge difference. We had foul trouble all over the place, and two kids fouled out. I felt better about this game. I felt better about playing on a bigger floor. I really felt the game was going to be won or lost at the offensive end. I just believed our kids would compete defensively, and we would be okay,” Coach True said. “The first (playoff) game, to me, is always the biggest concern. You have to get over that hurdle. We played so well against Yarmouth that I just felt like we were in a good place (heading into the Gray game).”
After a timeout, the Lakers indeed found a better place psychologically. They relaxed. They were patient. And, they finished plays.
Senior Kristen Huntress hustled for an offensive rebound, and immediately drove to the hoop for a score. Down 7-4, the Lakers tied the game as Aisley Sturk — Ms. Hustle, who Coach True has tried to encourage to shoot the ball more all season — pulled the trigger on a straight-away 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in the first quarter.
Tie game, 7-7.
Chandler True gave the Lakers their first lead by scoring on the opening possession on a strong drive down the right side of the lane. She was fouled and made the free throw for a 10-7 lead.
G-NG quickly responded as Alicia Dumont and Brianna Jordan connected on back-to-back treys. Conley scored in the lane, and the Pats were up 15-10 with 4:36 left in the half.
The Lakers rallied as Millett sank a wide-open 3-pointer, and Huntress made what G-NG Coach Mike Andreasen called a “circus shot” — a one-handed, off-balance floater in the lane to close the gap to 17-15.
G-NG answered as Isabelle DeTroy connected on a corner jumper and Conley drained a foul-line jumper.
Down 21-15 at the half, Coach True impressed upon his team they were in striking range and needed to find their best basketball over the final 16 minutes of play.
“We addressed a couple of things. One, we struggled a little bit with post defense in the first half. So, we made the adjustment to play more behind, especially on the freshman (Jordan Grant), who hurt us a little over the top and rebounding. I felt if we just stayed behind we would move them away from posting up too close to the basket and be able to block out better and keep them away from the backboard,” Coach True said. “Secondly, our kids were a little bit frustrated because they weren’t getting open looks. They extended their pressure. They are athletic and very strong. All year long, our mantra has been two, three passes — at times I called us one hit wonders — if something didn’t have initially off our set, we struggled a little bit. My message at halftime was to just relax, continue to move the ball, be patient, and the more times we can reverse the basketball, I thought it would increase the chance of someone getting an open look or lane to attack.”
The Lakers found their attack mode mentality. Their defense forced five G-NG turnovers and the Lakers played with confidence in the offensive end, out scoring the Patriots 11-4 behind four points from Lauren Jakobs, a nifty drive past two defenders by Millett, and a 3-pointer by Huntress with 1:04 left, giving the Lakers a 26-23 lead.
After LR came up with a stop, Coach True felt his club missed out on a real opportunity to possibly set the tone entering the final quarter.
“We had one possession, which I wish we could take back. Right after Kristen hit a three and we went up three, we got a stop and had the ball with 34 seconds left to go in the third quarter. At that point in time, we should be going into the fourth either up 3, 4, 5 or 6 depending on how that possession turned out,” the coach said. “We made an ill-advised pass off our first brush cut, and that led to a foul at the other end. They (Conley) made two free throws, and that left us up just one heading into the final quarter, instead of a possible two-possession lead. I thought that possession was really critical in the game.”
Instead, Gray-NG’s Brianna Jordan made the big shot that seemed to spark the Patriots, who took a 27-26 lead. The Patriots had a chance to put the game out of reach, but shot just 4-of-9 from the foul line in the fourth.
They, however, made enough to send the fifth-seeded Lakers (13-7) packing for the second straight year.
“In retrospect, and as time passes on, you have to be proud of the fact that you are right there, year in and year out. We are just plays away from participating in a state championship game. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for from your kids,” Coach True said. “We had a great tournament. The quarterfinal was one of the best games we’ve played all year long. I am really proud of the kids’ efforts and their willingness to buy into what we are doing.”
Coach True also had high praise for his two seniors — Kristen Huntress and Melody Millett, the remaining members of the Lakers 2014 state championship team.
“Kristen and Mel have been mainstays in our program. They have been very loyal to the program. They have been great role models for our youth and our community,” Coach True said. “They’re not going to be replaced. They’re great kids and I am proud of how they have matured as young women.”