Keys to victory

Columbus North head coach Pat McKee said he doesn’t know if his team can duplicate the performance it turned in against Penn last time.

For starters, the Bull Dogs were on fire from outside — they attempted 10 3-point shots against the Kingsmen and made eight. That’s certainly something that North can’t bank on having happen again, especially since Penn will almost certainly apply more pressure against Paige Littrell and Maliah Howard-Bass on the perimeter.

Additionally, North also will be without its primary ballhandler in injured point guard Ashlyn Huffman. The point guard duties were basically handled by committee against Roncalli at the semistate, with Littrell, Howard-Bass, Emily Kim and Kenzie Patberg all contributing, and while the Bull Dogs did win that game, they did commit 16 turnovers.

“We have to handle the ball clean,” McKee said. “We have to box out and rebound and push the ball every chance we get, but with proper execution. We can’t push it out of control.”

Penn’s backcourt situation also has changed significantly since it lost at North in December. Point guard Kaitlyn Marenyi missed that first meeting with an injury, one of 13 contests she sat out this season. With Marenyi back, the Kingsmen will likely feel much more confident facing whatever defensive pressure the Bull Dogs come with.

For both teams, the message this week has focused on limiting mistakes. Whichever makes fewer will certainly have the upper hand.

“It’s going to come down to all of the little things that the game entails,” Penn coach Kristi Ulrich said, “with rebounding, loose balls, taking care of the basketball, making free throws and things like that.”

Saturday’s game won’t be decided entirely by who does less wrong, though — each side has players capable of doing plenty of things right. For Penn, Lehigh recruit Camryn Buhr scored 20 points at North in December, right around her average for the season. For the Bull Dogs, Howard-Bass relishes the biggest moments, and that’s when she has delivered her best performances all season long.

Does she have another one left in the tank? Will an unlikely hero emerge? Regardless of how it plays out, don’t expect a repeat of the first meeting.