The Rolla girls basketball team didn't have the prettiest start to Districts when they faced off against Union on Monday, Feb. 25. Neither team could get much going offensively, but a stellar defensive performance from the Lady Bulldogs sent them to the District Championship with a 38-29 win.
Rolla got out to a rough start Monday night, turning the ball over on their first two possessions. The Lady Bulldogs struggled with turnovers throughout the quarter, but they were able to hang around thanks to a three form Carli Libhart and a three point play from Rebecca Janke. The turnover issues plagued Rolla late in the quarter, which opened the door for Union to score the final five points of the quarter to carry a 13-8 lead into the second.
After a bumpy start, the Lady Bulldog defense set the tone in the second. Points were scarce throughout the quarter, as the first four minutes of the quarter saw each team make just one free throw. Janke then gave Rolla a big spark in the final four minutes thanks to a great performance on the glass. Rolla struggled to get the ball to their forwards throughout the night, as Union packed in the paint. Janke was able to get going by grabbing offensive rebound after offensive rebound. That opened the door for a lot of second chance points. She scored six points in the quarter to give Rolla a 16-14 lead with 1:25 left in the half. Elle Rodgers followed that with a three, before Union knocked down a pair of free throws. Savannah Campbell nearly expanded Rolla's lead at the buzzer, but her last second free throw rimmed out and the Lady Bulldogs went into the break with a 19-16 lead. Union scored just three points in the quarter, all of which came at the charity stripe.
The spectacular defensive performance from Rolla continued in the third, as Union again failed to score from the field in the quarter. The Lady Bulldogs started the quarter on a 6-0 run thanks to baskets from Kianna Garner, Janke and Loran Pritchett. Union knocked down three free throws in the quarter, as the Rolla lead ballooned out to 28-19 heading into the fourth.
After a night of low scoring offenses, both teams opened the final quarter by knocking down a three with Libhart connecting for the Lady Bulldogs. Rolla slowed down their offense even more in the fourth, eating as much clock as they could as Union chipped away. The Lady Wildcats got as close as 31-28 with 3:07 left in the game, before Rodgers knocked down a much needed three to stretch the lead back out to six. Rolla continued to play excellent defense, holding Union to just one point for the remainder of the game. Libhart sealed the win by going 4-4 at the free throw line in the final 20 seconds to finish off a 38-29 win.
"Defense is what we want as our calling card and that's what won the game for us tonight," said head coach Luke Floyd after the game. "Nothing was easy. I thought Union did a great job packing it in, taking away our inside game and then early on shots weren't falling for us outside...after that first quarter, I thought we played a really good defensive game."
The Rolla defense was stout pretty much all night long. After allowing 13 points in the first, the Lady Bulldogs went two straight quarters without allowing Union to score from the field. The Lady Wildcats scored a combined six points in the second and third quarters to help Rolla build a small lead. Coach Floyd was thrilled by the defensive performance.
"It goes back to them buying into defense. We've talked about it all year, defense wins championships and that's what it's going to take," said the Rolla head coach. "Every game we play is going to be a grind like this, but I thought the girls did a really good job of adjusting in the press and in the half court. Nothing came easy...that's just the girls' mindset. We're going to make you earn every point you get on the offensive end.
Janke was the key to Rolla's victory on Monday night, scoring 13 points while cleaning up on the glass with seven rebounds. Defensively, Janke added five blocks and a steal. Her rebounding efforts made the difference in the Lady Bulldog win.
"Once we started missing outside shots, I thought Rebecca did a great job on the glass, getting some offensive rebounds and put-backs," said coach Floyd. "Early on, I thought we tried to force it inside a little bit, which led to turnovers. Once we relaxed and started moving the ball a little bit better and our guards started to attack the basket, it opened some things up for us."
Libhart added another 11 points for the Lady Bulldogs, six rebounds and a steal. Rodgers chipped in with nine points, four steals, two assists and a rebound. Pritchett scored three points to go along with six rebounds and three assists. Kianna Garner contributed two points, a block, a steal, a rebound and an assist.
While it wasn't the prettiest win, coach Floyd doesn't think he'll have to do too much to get his team back into their offensive rhythm and ready to go for the District Championship.
"I don't think we'll have to pick them up, we got the win. That's all you're trying to do this time of year is win and advance," said the Lady Bulldog head coach. "We just talked about it in the locker room, the adjustments that we need to make are pretty easy ones. More than anything it's just decision-making and if we continue to guard and play defense the way we do, we're going to have a shot. This time of year, that's all you can ask for is a chance."
The Lady Bulldogs will face off against sixth-seeded Owensville in the championship game. The Dutchgirls have already taken out some of the big names in the District Tournament. Owensville edged Sullivan, one of the three teams to beat Rolla this season, 39-38 in the first round on Saturday, before taking down the second seed, St. Clair, 47-40 after Rolla's game Monday. The two squads will face off for the District Title Friday, Mar. 1 at 5:30.