For an exhilarating eight minutes, the Whiteland girls basketball team played its best basketball of the season against powerhouse Columbus North on Tuesday night.
Outmatched against a terrific Bull Dogs squad, the Warriors held up against suffocating defensive pressure in the first quarter to manage a 12-12 tie that had the home crowd a bit bewildered.
However, that North defensive pressure finally took its toll, and the Bull Dogs pulled away to a 66-42 victory that raised the state’s No.3-ranked team to 19-1.
After having just a pair of turnovers in the first quarter, Whiteland turned over the ball eight times in the second quarter and on five consecutive possessions to end the first half. North has excelled all season in turning turnovers into points, and Tuesday night was no different. North finished the half on a 12-4 run, which established a 39-25 lead at halftime.
The Bull Dogs quickly put things to rest in the third quarter with a 17-5 advantage as the Warriors committed another eight turnovers. Then it was reserve time in the final quarter.
“We played a pretty good first half,” Whiteland coach Kyle Shipp said. “Our goal was to make ourselves play better on Saturday at Mooresville, and I think we did that. I thought we came out against Columbus North ready to play at a high level. I thought we made them do some things other than they normally do.
“But we need to get better mentally.”
North forced the Warriors into all the turnovers with full court pressure. The Bull Dogs never let the visitors get into any kind of offensive flow.
“That’s a great basketball team, and we hung in there for about 14 minutes,” Shipp said. “I am proud of our girls.”
Although the Bull Dogs were a bit sluggish offensively in the first half, they knew to find senior guard Ali Patberg, who scored 17 of her 23 points in the opening half. Patberg only played a few minutes in the third quarter.
Columbus North had difficulty with Whiteland freshman center Mackenzie Blazek, who 16 points. Senior guard Monica Collins hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening quarter to keep the Warriors close.
North coach Pat McKee said he thought his team really started to open up offensively when he made a move that won’t show up in the scorebook. McKee inserted senior guard Sheyanne Street into the game as a post player. Although Street didn’t score, she did an excellent job harassing Blazek and opening up the middle on the offensive end. A 50 percent 3-point shooter, Street hovered near the perimeter, and that pulled Whiteland’s defenders out of the paint.
The Bull Dogs also got a nice game off the bench from sophomore center Imani Guy, who had 12 points.
“They have a good post player (Blazek), so when I came in, it was my job to finish offensively,” Guy said. “We started kind of slow because we weren’t mentally prepared to play, but by the end of the second quarter, we picked it up and played our way.”
North’s way has been to squeeze opponents with defense until they cough up the ball, and that’s what they did. Whiteland, 9-12, finished with 25 turnovers.
Sammi Fancher scored 11 points for Whiteland off the bench, and Sidney Crowe had nine. Only four players scored for Whiteland.
North picked up 11 points from Maliah Howard-Bass and eight from junior forward Paige Littrell.