The St. James girls basketball team (2-1) hit their home court for the first time this season when they hosted Cuba on Monday, Dec. 3. The Lady Tigers played dominant defense all night long on their way to a 58-23 victory.
St. James got out to a slow start on Monday night, as Cuba scored the first four points of the contest. The Lady Tigers needed a few minutes to get on the board and didn't make a shot from the field until mid-way through the opening quarter. St. James had a great run in the middle of the quarter that saw them score six quick points on a three point play form Riley Whitener, before a steal lead to a three from Hunter Pitts. That six point swing gave St. James an 8-5 lead that they wouldn't surrender.
The Lady Tigers dominated the rest of the opening quarter, particularly on the defensive end. Cuba was held off the board until the final seconds of the quarter, as St. James finished the opening frame on a 14-14 run. The Lady Tigers ended the quarter with a 14-8 lead.
St. James saw their excellent defense carry into the second quarter, where Cuba was held scoreless for the first five minutes of the quarter. The Lady Tiger offense was struggling in the half court, but they were able to find some points in transition to help their lead stretch out to 20-8 before Cuba was able to get on the board. Cuba was able to finish the quarter on a 5-3 run, as St. James went into the half with a 23-13 lead. Mikaela Donnelly paced the St. James offense with transition points in the first half, scoring eight points before the break.
The Lady Tigers continued to play excellent defense in the second half, but started to see their shots fall on the other end. St. James exploded for 25 points in the third quarter led by a trio of threes from Savannah Riccetti. Hannah Marcee did some damage in the paint to the tune of five points, while Donnelly added another four points to her total. Cuba scored just five points in the quarter, as the Lady Tigers started to run away with the game. St. James led 48-18 with a quarter left to play.
With a 30 point lead and a quarter to play, the clock was running for a majority of the fourth quarter. Cuba was held to five points for the third straight quarter, while St. James added 10 points on their way to the win. Freshman Aly Bullock found her shot on the fourth with a three and a total of five points, while Whitener knocked down a three of her own to help finish off a 58-23 win.
"I thought (defense) was our best part," said head coach Terry Wells. "In the first half, we kind of let some of their possessions get extended. Not that we weren't blocking out, I just felt like Cuba was turning all of those into jump balls and dead balls and we weren't clearing rebounds so we could have a better chance of scoring in transition. For the most part defensively and effort-wise, I thought we were good."
Donnelly led the St. James offense with 12 points, while also adding two steals and an assist. Bullock and Riccetti each scored nine points with Riccetti adding seven steals, three assists and a rebound, while Bullock added three steals, a block and a rebound. Pitts scored seven points to go along with a rebound and an assist. Whitener chipped in with six points, a rebound, a steal and an assist. Bailey Wells, Hannah Marcee and Ashlyn Rinehart each scored five points with Wells adding six steals, five rebounds and four assists, while Marcee grabbed a pair of rebounds and Rinehart grabbed two rebounds, a steal and an assist. Caily Sanders chipped in with four rebounds, two steals and an assist.
Coach Wells said the key to jump starting the St. James offense was getting points in transition early and then making some adjustments at halftime.
"We needed those (transition points), because we were 1-12 from three in the first half. Nothing was really falling, so we needed those few transition points to get into halftime with a lead," said Wells. "(Adjustments included) just moving and not holding the ball against their zone. We just kind of stood around in four corners with the girl the middle working the whole first half and everyone who caught it, held it for two seconds. We were able to talk about some movement principles, send a cutter through then flash another cutter into the openings that that one created. The girls really executed that. I was proud of them for that."
St. James has had a spread out schedule to open their season, but they'll finally have a week with more than one game. The Lady Tigers have some challenges ahead, as they host Blair Oaks on Thursday, before a trip to Mountain View Liberty on Friday. Coach Wells hopes that Monday's win helps set the tone for the week.
"Hopefully if we can play well, it'll be a good thing, but that can go two ways. If you come out and struggle and you get on a little losing streak and you don't have any practice time to kind of recover and recoup, it can be a bad thing," said coach Wells on having a busier schedule this week. "This time of year when you practice for four weeks to start the season, the girls want to play games. We have two very tough games coming up this week that will test us. Blair Oaks beat us twice last year, including Districts, so we're looking forward to that one."