By Grant Pepper
As the afternoon sun poured into The Pit last Saturday, the Jills hosted one of Ohio’s best Division I girls basketball programs, the Mt. Notre Dame Cougars. Hailing from Cincinnati, the Cougars went to the D-I state title game every year from 2004 to 2009, winning every year but 2005.
“We are trying to turn the program around from the past couple of years,” Mt. Notre Dame head coach Kelly Main said.
If Saturday was any indication, it seems as if the Mt. Notre Dame program is heading in the right direction. The Cougars went on the road and beat a scrappy Jills squad 43-29 on Saturday, forcing 25 Oakwood turnovers in the victory.
Early on, physicality seemed to be an issue for the Jills. The Cougars were the tougher team in the initial minutes, both offensively and defensively. The Jills also had trouble containing the Cougar’s sensational sophomore guard, Naomi Davenport.
Davenport penetrated at will in the first quarter, scoring the first six points for Mt. Notre Dame, all on lay-ups. Davenport’s quickness, ball-handling ability, and length caused problems for the Jills all afternoon, and she would finish with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 steals.
The Cougars played physical, aggressive defense, often baiting the Jills into traps in the corners, leading to turnovers.
“Creating turnovers means more possessions for us, which is definitely a good thing,” Main said after the game.
The Cougar defense held the Jills to no field goals in the first quarter, and just three points off of free-throws. Yet, the Jills still hung around, down just five at the quarter break.
In the second quarter, Mt. Notre Dame extended their pressure and converted on easy buckets in transition. However, senior Oakwood forward Elizabeth Haley rallied the resilient Jills on both ends of the floor.
Just one day after signing to play basketball next year for Yale University, Haley would go for 18 points in the loss. Haley converted on multiple ‘and-one’ situations to pull the Jills within just two of the Cougars in the second quarter. The Cougars could not contain Haley’s baseline driving ability late in the first half, and the Yale recruit made them pay.
Carrying momentum into halftime, the Jills found themselves down just three, 15-12, to the mighty Cougars.
After a physical first half, Mt. Notre Dame came out hot offensively. The Cougars sprinted to a 9-0 run to start the second half, including many easy transition scores coming from Oakwood turnovers.
As usual, though, Haley brought the Jills back. She would knock down a three-pointer and two free-throws to stop the bleeding, pulling the pesky Jills within seven of the Cougars.
Eventually it turned into a whole new game: Haley vs. Davenport.
Davenport hit a pull-up three-pointer, and Haley responded with an ‘and-one’ baseline layup, converting the free-throw to keep the game close. Davenport, however, asserted her physical dominance further, snagging a rebound and sticking the put-back while being fouled.
When the Cougars weren’t converting fast-break layups from Oakwood turnovers, they were patient offensively, scoring off of many well-executed back-screens and cuts. After an energized third quarter, Mt. Notre Dame seemed to be pulling away with the game, up by 14 going into the final eight minutes.
The Cougars kept their foot on the pedal in the final quarter, as junior forward Kristi Duncan dominated the paint in the final minutes. With their 14-point win over the Jills on Saturday, Mt. Notre Dame would improve their record to 10-9 overall.
The Jills would fall to 8-9 overall with the loss. Oakwood’s next game is this Thursday, when they take on the Valley View Spartans in The Pit. The Spartans won 46-40 in the teams’ first meeting.