Slowing down Willamette a tall task for Crater
CENTRAL POINT — At times Tuesday night it felt like there was a lid on the Crater girls basketball team’s basket.
And against the top-ranked team in Class 5A, stretches like that will prove costly.
In a matchup of 5A’s two highest-ranked teams, No. 2-ranked Crater saw No. 1 Willamette continue its unbeaten run to open the 2021-22 season, as the Wolverines took sole possession of first place in the Midwestern League with a 64-48 win over the Comets.
“We make half of the shots we make at the rim or what we left at the free-throw line and it’s a totally different ball game,” Crater head coach Scott Dippel said. “Those are the things that kill teams, and it did with us tonight. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, they have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, so I think we showed our age and they showed that they’re playing over their age. They just played a lot more mature than we did. That’s just kind of the situation we were in.”
Not that anything Willamette (12-0, 6-0 MWL) and its freshman-laden starting lineup was able to do Tuesday night came as much of a surprise to Dippel and the Comets.
Having already faced the Wolverines once this season — a 60-42 Willamette win on Dec. 21 in the semifinals of the Spartan Holiday Showcase in Corvallis — the Comets weren’t taken aback by just how improved their opposition is this season.
And the Wolverines, who went 2-11 during the abbreviated spring season, showed it again in the first meeting that counted toward their respective league records.
“We didn’t show a lot then (in December), so we were more prepared this time,” Crater senior guard McKenzie Hirsch said. “And I think even though we were more prepared this time, we still weren’t as prepared as we need to be. Next time, we’ll be able to be more prepared and that should be good for us.”
Crater (12-3, 5-1) never held the lead Tuesday night, instead seeing Willamette jump out to a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. The Comets went nearly five minutes before making their first basket, as Hirsch got her team on the scoreboard with a nice drive through the paint with 3:19 to go in the first quarter.
Hirsch, one of Crater’s two seniors this season, scored all eight of the Comets’ points in the first quarter, as the Wolverines took a 12-8 lead into the second period.
“She was fantastic as usual,” Dippel said of Hirsch, who finished with 11 points. “We ran set plays to her side, she did a nice job of executing those. When things broke down, she made things happen. She was gassed, but she stuck in there.”
But the second quarter was when the Wolverines started to get some distances between themselves and the Comets.
Willamette used a 10-1 run to take a double-digit lead for the first time, with freshmen Maddy Warberg and Brynn Smith — two of the biggest reasons behind the Wolverines’ rise to the top of the 5A rankings this season — hitting 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to go ahead 20-9.
Smith, a sweet-shooting 5-foot-11 guard, scored 12 of her game-high 21 points in the first half, while the 5-10 Warberg added 15 points off the bench, all of but three of which came from behind the 3-point line.
Willamette 6-foot junior center Nancy Coffman also finished in double figures with 14 points.
As a team, Willamette — which only dressed eight players — finished with eight 3-pointers, as Warberg hit four and Smith had three of her own.
“It’s definitely tough,” Hirsch said of trying to fight back against Willamette’s ability to shoot the ball. ”I think that we did do a good job in the first quarter of shutting down their shooters. Obviously, we have a young team, but I think we’re doing great. Everyone’s stepping up and I’m really proud of everyone. Those shooters, they did not miss tonight, and respect to them for it, but I think with some practice we’re going to give them a really good run for their money when we go up there to Willamette.”
Willamette, which led 27-19 at the half, got its lead into double digits for good thanks to a 15-6 run that spanned much of the third quarter.
Smith and Warberg accounted for 10 of those points, with the latter capping the run with an old-school three-point play to extend the Wolverines’ lead to 46-26 late in the third quarter.
“At the very beginning of the game, we did a very nice job of paying attention to the people we needed to pay attention to,” Dippel said. “I thought (Willamette head coach Danielle Bellando) made some really nice adjustments with running those kids off of screens and we started having to cover down to help out a little bit and then they just trailed their shooters. She made great adjustments, we tried to adjust back and it was just a little too late.”
Along with Hirsch, senior Kayleigh Gugliotta also scored 11 points, while junior Kate Stidham had nine points off the bench.
The Comets, who saw their five-game winning streak snapped, play another key MWL game when they travel to Eugene to face Churchill on Friday night.
“We played with a lot more urgency in the beginning of the fourth quarter and that made it a little more exciting, but the mental lapses in the third quarter we couldn’t just bounce back from,” said Dippel, whose team has only lost to Willamette and South Medford, No. 4 in Class 6A. “The effort was obviously there, it’s not their fault we missed some putbacks and left some stuff there, but we have a minute to feel sorry for ourselves because we have another big game at 5:15 p.m. on Friday at Churchill, which has a lot to do with where we want to be, and that’s good playoff position going toward the state tournament.”
WILLAMETTE (64): Morris 2, Garcia 0, Warberg, 15, Nguyen 7, Smith 21, Wagner 0, Coffman 14, Ireland 5. Totals: 23 10-12 64.
CRATER (48): K. Gugliotta 11, Sizemore 0, Gish 0, Dippel 0, Weaver 5, Hirsch 11, Stidham 9, S. Winslow 6, A. Winslow 4, Vranes 0, A. Gugliotta 0, Traore 2. Totals: 16 12-22 48.
Willamette 12 15 21 16— 64
Crater 8 11 7 22— 48
3-point goals — Willamette 9 (Warberg 4, Nguyen 1, Smith 3), Crater 4 (K. Gugliotta 2, Hirsch 1, Stidham 1). Fouled out — Morris.
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.