There haven’t been too many times during its 44-game winning streak when the Columbus North girls basketball team has needed a game-saving play.
When the Bull Dogs have needed someone to step forward, Maliah Howard-Bass has been there to answer the call.
Against then-No.1 Lawrence North on Nov. 28, Howard-Bass put in a layup at the buzzer to give Columbus North a 46-44 victory. With the score tied at 53-53 and just eight tenths of a second remaining on Dec. 15 against Seymour, she calmly drilled a 12-foot jumper to keep the Bull Dogs unbeaten.
Even when plays aren’t being drawn up for her, Howard-Bass has found ways to deliver in crunch time. The Bull Dogs were in another tie game Dec. 10 at East Central — only this time, it was the Trojans that had the ball with time running out.
Howard-Bass came up with a steal and found teammate Ashlyn Huffman for the go-ahead layup with seven seconds to go, lifting the Bull Dogs to another 46-44 triumph.
“She is always ready for the big moment,” North coach Pat McKee said. “In fact, she’s probably at her best in those big moments.”
There’s a chance that another one of those big moments might pop up tonight, when the Class 4A No. 1 Bull Dogs face arguably their toughest test of the season at Heritage Christian. The 17-2 Eagles are ranked second in Class 3A and are third in the state’s Sagarin ratings — two spots ahead of Columbus North.
If there is such a moment, Howard-Bass certainly won’t be shying away from it. She never has.
From the time she hit her first buzzer-beater in eighth grade, leading Southwestern (Hanover) Middle School to a win against Jennings County, she’s always wanted the ball in her hands when it matters most.
Even last season, when Ali Patberg was North’s primary scorer, Howard-Bass made her share of big plays, including hitting a pair of late 3-pointers in a regional victory against Bedford North Lawrence.
When the lights are brightest, McKee said, Howard-Bass “exudes the light herself.”
It’s certainly no accident that Howard-Bass has become a star on the court. Her mother, Brianna, was an Indiana All-Star who led Southwestern (Hanover) to a state championship in 2002.
Maliah has certainly inherited quite a bit of her mother’s natural basketball talent and competitive drive. She’s also grown up dealing with high expectations, so being challenged by the North coaching staff doesn’t faze her.
“Some kids, when you get on them real hard, they break down,” McKee said. “She takes hard coaching pretty well most of the time.”
Howard-Bass admits that there were some tense periods between her and her mother in middle school, but says that things have mellowed a bit since Brianna remarried and the family moved to Columbus about three years ago.
“Coming into high school, my mom said … ‘Just give me the summer to train you up, then I’m passing you off to Pat McKee,’” Howard-Bass recalled. “And so that summer, she worked me so hard, and then after, she let me go to Pat, it was just, after the game she’ll be like, ‘Oh, good job.’
“She’ll give me a couple of tips here and there, but she’s never as hard on me as she used to be, because she knew that I got it from the coaches.”
Howard-Bass also does a pretty good job of pushing herself. McKee lauds the 5-foot-9 junior for her drive, saying that she “wants to win everything she does,” whether it’s in a game or a drill in practice.
Occasionally, the coach says, that determination leads her to try doing too much, but for the most part, it’s paying dividends. Howard-Bass leads the Bull Dogs in scoring (18.5 points per game) and steals (3.1 per game) this season and ranks third on the team in rebounds and assists.
Coaches at the next level have taken notice. Howard-Bass already has scholarship offers from Ball State, Evansville and Southern Illinois, and she only figures to get more attention in the coming months, especially if Columbus North continues to win like it has. The team is 69-4 over Howard-Bass’ three seasons.
Some of those games have been closer than the Bull Dogs might have preferred, but each time the team’s win streak has been in jeopardy this season, Howard-Bass has delivered.
“The coaches … give me different options,” she said. “I just take what the defense gives me and pick one of those options, and so far, they’ve worked out.”
4A No. 1 Columbus North (19-0)
at 3A No. 2 Heritage Christian (17-2)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: 6401 E. 75th St., Indianapolis
Maliah Howard-Bass has either scored or assisted on the winning basket in each of Columbus North’s three last-second victories this season. A brief rundown:
Lawrence North;3.5 seconds;layup
East Central;7 seconds;steal/assist
Seymour;0.8 seconds;jump shot