BY AARON PATTERSON
There’s no hiding the fact that the Danville Vikings girls basketball team struggles offensively. They admit as much. But there’s also no question that few teams this season have been able to keep up with their defensive pressure.
It’s something Danville’s coaching staff stresses during every practice and every game, and so far this season there have been few teams able to keep up. The Vikings’ latest victims to get an up-close view of the defensive intensity were the Schlarman Academy Hilltoppers when the Vikings pressured their intercity rival into 32 turnovers en route to a 45-27 win on Saturday.
“I think defense is just our staple,” Danville senior guard Alexus Jimson-Miller said. “I think that is a very important part of how we have been winning. A lot of these games haven’t been our best games, especially this one. This was not our best game at all. I think even offensively, we didn’t really do that well. It was our defense that kept us going.”
The win was the Vikings’ seventh of the season and fourth in a row since losing to Champaign Centennial on November 20. Danville shot only 31 percent against Schlarman Academy, and made only two of 11 shots attempts in the third quarter. But the Vikings stayed strong on the defensive end of the court where they recorded a total of 28 steals. They converted those opportunities into 18 points.
Jimson-Miller (11 points, five rebounds) recorded 10 steals in the game while teammates Michaela Jones (12 points) and Jade Carter (14 rebounds) swiped six each.
“I got after them at halftime for giving up 22 points,” Danville coach Brian Anderson said. “We gave up 22 points the other night in the whole game. That was frustrating. Then, we only gave up five in the second half. That’s what we hang our hat on because we struggle shooting. We’ve got to win games defensively. We’ve got a couple of good guards that will pressure the heck out of point guards.
“There was a two-minute stretch early in the fourth where Michaela and Alexus really pressured the ball and got three or four runaways and gave us about a 10-point cushion,” he added. “That was the difference in the game.”
The Hilltoppers (4-3 overall) trailed 25-22 at halftime behind nine points from freshman Sierra Bell. Bell had three fouls, though, at the break, and it didn’t take long for her to be whistled for her final two. Bell, who led Schlarman Academy with 11 points, fouled out of the game with one minute, 42 seconds remaining in the third quarter. After Bell’s exit, the Hilltoppers were outscored 16-3 in the final 9:42 of the contest.
“Their defensive pressure got to us, especially when Sierra Bell fouled out,” Schlarman Academy coach Keith Peoples said. “She’s a true point guard and she carries so much responsibility for us on offense and defensively. When your floor general is out of the game, you kind of just fall apart. That’s what happened in the fourth quarter tonight. What we’ve got to do in the future is give her more breaks, and manage the clock with our time outs and her playing time so that she doesn’t get herself into foul trouble.”
Bell was the Hilltoppers’ only player to reach double figures in scoring, though Janelle Marion finished with five points, 15 rebounds, and three steals, and Shelby Mascari came off the bench to grab 10 rebounds and record three blocks.
Schlarman Academy switched to a 2-2-1 zone press in the first quarter, and despite leading only briefly in the game, never trailed by more than five points until Danville (7-2) ended the game on an 18-1 run.
The Hilltoppers will have a chance to rebound from the loss on Tuesday when they travel to Armstrong to take on the Trojans in the first game of a girls-boys varsity double-header. Danville is also scheduled to be on the road on Thursday taking on Bloomington.