Defending state champs win season opener

NEW ALBANY — Playing their first game since winning the Class 4A state title in March, the Columbus North girls picked up right where they left off.

North was not as efficient offensively Tuesday night is it was most of last season, but its defense proved to be stellar. Despite a fourth quarter comeback attempt by host New Albany, North was able to hang on to a 39-32 victory.

Paige Littrell, who played alongside Miss Basketball Ali Patberg and others the past three seasons, said this has been a major adjustment.

“More people will have to step it up this year and the seniors have done a good job covering the leadership role,” Littrell said, who finished with eight points. “We have to talk a lot more, encourage each other and pick each other up.”

Maliah Howard-Bass led North with 18 points. With Howard-Bass and Elle Williams in foul trouble, North coach Pat McKee had to turn to his bench early on and throughout much of the game.

They did not disappoint.

“Our freshman (Nadia Lomax) stepped up big for us and our sophomore, Kat Norman, really stood her ground defensively for us,” Howard-Bass said. “She did her role, and that is something all of us need to do. Whenever one of us has foul trouble, our bench can come in and help us.”

McKee was impressed by the North’s defensive presence.

“New Albany is a good team,” McKee said. “They put up 72 against Evansville Bosse in their first game, and we hold them to 32 tonight. It could have been much less if not for a couple miscues, but overall, they did a very good job.”

North led 33-18 early in the fourth quarter when New Albany went on a 10-2 run. Howard- Bass sealed the win by converting four straight free throws.

Imani Guy finished with seven points, and Williams added four for North. Lomax scored two points.

McKee says the team chemistry will get better as the season progresses.

“It is all about practice,” McKee said. “We have to put in the right practice. We have a really good team. We just have to keep working at it.

“There were some first-game jitters, but we have to get comfortable in a revised system and learn some new roles because the game is much faster than in practice,” he said. “They all have experience playing, but now it will be in more of the spotlight.”