When discussing the multitude of reasons the Columbus North girls basketball team left Bedford North Lawrence as the conquering hero Tuesday, one word stands above all others.
The Bull Dogs’ 48-40 victory against the two-time defending state champions, and regional tournament hosts, was accomplished because the greatest player in school history had faith in her teammates.
So when the Stars, who had eliminated the Bull Dogs the past two seasons in the regional, made their late run, it was someone other than point guard Ali Patberg who buried them.
Meet sophomore guard Maliah Howard-Bass.
When Patberg becomes North’s past after this current run comes to an end, whether that happens Saturday in the semistate game against Lawrence North or in the state championship game the week after, Howard-Bass becomes the Dogs’ very promising future. She is, indeed, the next big thing.
On Tuesday, though, they were both terrific in the here-and-now.
Consider that Patberg has suffered considerable athletics heartache at the hands of these Stars, and she had every right to want to take matters into her own talented hands.
It made sense, then, that when the moment of truth arrived Tuesday, that no one would forgive Patberg if she did a little ball-hogging, two-step in the final minutes.
Understand that BNL’s strategy was to treat the regional championship game like a tag-team wrestling match. The Stars sent a conga line of defensive players at Patberg, hoping to completely deflate her for the closing minutes.
What they didn’t consider was that Patberg would, indeed, tag a teammate.
When Patberg was dog-tired late in the fourth quarter, and BNL made its final run by cutting the North lead to 36-35 with under three minutes remaining, Howard-Bass got the tag, and the green light.
Open for a 3, she buried it.
With under a minute left, Howard-Bass found herself open again at the 3-point line. She fired, and hit. The Bull Dogs had a 44-37, lead and the Bedford North Lawrence faithful lost their faith and headed toward the doors.
Of course, it wasn’t just Howard-Bass or Patberg; it was every other Bull Dog who played her heart out on defense, holding the Stars to their second low point total of the season.
North senior guard Debie Gedeon played three inches taller than her 5-foot-9 height against BNL’s twin towers of 6-foot-2 Dominique McBryde and 6-3 Jenna Allen. She was fantastic.
North centers Elle Williams and Imani Guy changed places throughout, and it always made it tough for BNL to work the ball inside. Yes, North can play defense against the best bigs in the state.
For such a low score, it was a frenzied pace, up and down the court from beginning to end. It was sloppy, and physical and rude. For the Bull Dogs, it was heaven.
If Patberg didn’t score the knockout, she certainly did a lot of the body work. BNL wing Erin Bradley fouled out trying to guard Patberg, who finished with 21 points. So did McBryde.
Bedford North Lawrence got to Patberg only in the second quarter, when she was shut out. Other than that, Patberg was running the show, scoring her points and trusting her teammates.
Patberg is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,900 points, but she also has the most assists in program history, more than 500. That doesn’t come without extreme trust.
So if it came time for Howard-Bass, or Paige Littrell or Sheyanne Street to launch a 3-ball into the Stars, Patberg gladly gave up the ball.
Some of those shots didn’t go down early, but Patberg kept dishing it out, keeping the faith.
Her teammates came through.