June 30, 2016

Mostly sunny

Wadsworth defense rises up to save the day

The Wadsworth girls basketball team doesn’t wait for a made shot to apply full-court pressure. It’s a good thing, too, because the Grizzlies weren’t making much of anything Tuesday in the early stages of their Division I regional semifinal against Magnificat.

Defense is a constant, though, and it often turns into offense for Wadsworth, which is why the Grizzlies eventually rolled to a 46-27 victory over the Blue Streaks.

Peyton Booth

“I think playing defense is better than playing offense,” said backup guard Hannah Centea, who played a ton of the former. “Defense wins the game.”

Wadsworth’s offense was beyond horrific in the first quarter, when the Grizzlies made just 1-of-15 shots. Defense, though, kept Andrew Booth’s club within 10-6.

Upping its traditional full-court pressure another notch in the second quarter, Wadsworth pitched a shutout, outscoring the Blue Streaks 14-0 to go up 20-10 at halftime.

The outcome was never really in doubt after that, as Magnificat became the fifth tournament opponent to fall victim to the deep and relentless Grizzlies, who are giving up an average of 28.2 points in the postseason as they head into a Norwalk Regional final Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against Toledo Notre Dame Academy.

“Defense was the key to this game,” said starting shooting guard McKenzie O’Brien, who led all scorers with 15 points. “Even when our shots weren’t falling, we were able to stop them.”

Again, that’s because the Grizzlies, unlike most teams, don’t rely on a made shot to apply pressure.

“Our philosophy is we’re going to pressure you make, miss or turnover,” Booth said. “As a coach, one of my biggest thrills is when we get a 10-second violation after we’ve committed a turnover, and we did that twice tonight.”

There’s no great secret to what Wadsworth does — and it does it virtually every game, every season.

The Grizzlies require all five players to be able to defend all over the court — a loss against extremely talented and big Fairmont at the Classic in the Country was the one time Wadsworth played a lot of zone this season — and all must be aware of what the others are doing.

If an opposing player has the ball and is traveling at what Booth calls “a high rate of speed,” the Grizzlies incorporate what they call a “run-and-jump,” which is basically a double-team that requires that player to make a snap decision.

It often works against pretty good point guards, but it is downright deadly when a player who isn’t used to handling the ball has to make that decision.

“Our goal is to make you transition 94 feet on every possession vs. pressure,” Booth said. “We want five kids who can defend, because most teams don’t have two very good ballhandlers, let alone five.”

Even when a team beats Wadsworth’s pressure — heck, even when it beats the pressure and scores — the Grizzlies still look at it as getting the game played at their tempo.

That’s because the Grizzlies play a lot of kids, and what might work for the opposition in the first quarter usually works less in the second and even less in the third, if Wadsworth hasn’t already blown the game open by then and called off the dogs.

Tired players, mentally and physically, start throwing passes here, there and everywhere. When they do manage to execute the pass and catch, they are often so tired and playing at a pace so much faster than normal that they miss short jumpers or layups.

Then they drop their head in disgust for a second and the Grizzlies, who transition from defense to offense as well as any team in the area, start sailing in for easy layups.

“If we play zone because a team is big, we’re still going to get killed inside because we don’t trot any 6-footers out there,” Booth said. “We’re better off playing our style.”

There aren’t a lot of hard, set rules, but the Grizzlies consider O’Brien, Centea and Haley Hassinger their best full-court, on-ball defenders. Point guard and reigning Gazette MVP Rachel Goddard is no slouch, either, but Booth likes to start with O’Brien or Hassinger defending the opposing point guard because Goddard has a ton of responsibilities at the offensive end.

Pseudo center Taylore Robinson and backup bigs Sabrina Parsons and Jodi Johnson usually have to read the pressure being applied in front of them and decide when it is right to “run and jump,” though one of them frequently applies the initial pressure after missed shots.

Peyton Booth, arguably the smartest player on a team full of very smart players, functions a lot like Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed in that she is often the player who reads the entire court and leaves her man to intercept what is frequently a hastily and poorly thrown pass.

Most important of all, though, is that all five players on the floor are capable of performing all the various roles, and that each one trusts that the other four are doing their job.

“Communication is the biggest key,” Centea said. “You make a decision on what you are going to do, and you have to rely on trust. We have each others’ backs.”

While the competition hasn’t been the greatest to this point, the tournament results speak for themselves.

Barberton went 12-for-40 from the field (.300) and committed 31 turnovers while losing 80-31.

Akron Garfield went 7-for-35 (.200) with 31 turnovers while losing 88-16.

Cloverleaf went 6-for-35 (.171) with 41 turnovers while losing 81-20.

Highland went 16-for-46 (.348) with 29 turnovers while losing 91-47.

Magnificat went 10-for-30 (.333) with 25 turnovers and lost by 19 after leading by four at the end of the first quarter.

Next up is a much better Notre Dame Academy team in the regional final at Norwalk High. The Eagles beat Wadsworth in the regional title game a year ago, but the Grizzlies will make only minor tweaks, if any, to their basic defensive approach.

“Our philosophy is based on the belief that we have more depth than you do,” Booth said. “It’s hard for other teams when you keep bringing in fresh kids and keep staying after them every possession.

“We run in eight, nine, 10 kids and try to get the opponent playing as fast as possible. For most teams, that’s eventually going to cause trouble.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.