Defensive effort propels Bull Dogs to regional

BLOOMINGTON — When you’re up against the Columbus North girls basketball team, you know that the run is probably coming sooner or later — one of those prolonged runs that just gradually sucks the life out of you.

Against Bloomington South on Saturday evening, the run was far more marathon than sprint.

Up by just two points early in the second quarter, the Class 4A No. 1 Bull Dogs choked the life out of the Panthers, stringing together 25 unanswered points on the way to a 62-35 victory in the championship game of the Bloomington North Sectional.

Columbus North (24-1) will play at home Saturday, facing Center Grove in a regional semifinal.

“We’re just very big on being patient, but attacking when we needed to,” North junior guard Ashlyn Huffman said. “I think we did a really good job kind of lulling them to sleep, and then when they turned their back, we were right there to get them.”

A free throw by Lauren Leal with 6:03 left in the first half had Bloomington South (14-10) within a pair at 16-14. The Panthers did not get another ball through the net for 10 minutes and 12 seconds against a suffocating North defense.

The Bull Dogs capped the first half with 12 straight points, the last coming on a Maliah Howard-Bass layup off a Huffman steal. They added 13 more to start the third quarter, with Howard-Bass and Elle Williams each hitting a pair of baskets during the second half of North’s extended blitz.

“Defensively, we did a lot of great things,” North coach Pat McKee said. “Either forcing turnovers or defending well, forcing tough shots, grabbing rebounds — and then in either case, either grabbing a rebound and running or picking up a loose ball off a turnover and running, we got some opportunities in transition.”

It was the second night in a row that the Bull Dogs shut their opponent down for a long period of time. In Friday’s semifinal, North held Columbus East without a field goal for 12 minutes and 20 seconds.

Howard-Bass paced Columbus North offensively on Saturday evening with 17 points, while Huffman added 10. Eleven different Bull Dogs got into the scoring column.

The Bull Dogs have much bigger goals than just winning a sectional title, but their pursuit of greater glory won’t stop them from savoring this win.

“Every sectional, it’s awesome to win,” Williams said. “We’ve done it four times, but it’s good to win it, especially our senior year.”

Saturday’s victory was the 100th for the North senior class against just six losses. McKee said he is hopeful that it won’t be the last, provided his team can keep bringing a similar defensive effort.

“Sometimes we don’t have the energy that we should have defensively,” he said, “and when we don’t, then we pay for it. But tonight, when it mattered, we got there, and last night, when it mattered, we got there.

“So hopefully we’ll keep getting there in these games. They’re going to get harder every step of the way, and we’re going to need to do that consistently.”