By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
CLEVER — Very little remains to the imagination when the Skyline Lady Tigers (No. 7 in Class 2) take the hardwood against the Clever Lady Jays (No. 3 in Class 3).
After all, the Tigers defeated the Jays 63-45 Jan. 17 at the Skyline Tournament.
The time-tested adage states it’s difficult to beat the same team twice in one season.
Apparently, the Tigers never received such memo, as they never trailed Monday defeating the Lady Jays 71-55 at Clever.
Sophomore Miranda Quennoz (16 points), sophomore Justine Barb (22 points), and junior Emma Crawford (team-high 24 points) accounted for more than 80 percent of the team’s scoring.
“At first, we focused a lot on other teams. We were so worried about what they could do, instead of what we can do,” Barb said of the team’s evolution. “I think we can play with anybody in the state, but it depends on how we come out, and it depends on what we are doing and putting out.”
What the Tigers showcased — or “put out” on the court — was a ruthless attack on both ends of the floor: hitting timely shots and making the necessary passes instead of rushing the shot selection.
Shutting down a state-ranked team is far from simplistic, and it’s even more impressive when the performance comes on the road.
The Tigers (13-6) operated with finesse and fluidity, as the Jays’ turnover woes impeded any deep runs they could hoped to produce.
Clever committed seven turnovers in the first quarter, and the Tigers opened the game on a 8-0 run — including a Crawford 3-pointer.
Skyline was vigilant, and the prowess with which they operated paralleled a Class 5 team: hitting the quick outlets, attacking the glass, playing stingy defense, and exposing the backside interior all illuminated the win.
“My game plan on [Madison Gladney] was to stay behind her, because she really likes to pass it out to [Clever’s Allie] Clevenger and [Ruthie] Brown,” Barb said. “Riley [Conley] did an awesome job on Clevenger.”
Clevenger led all scorers with 27 points, but the senior took a bit to find her rhythm: a credit to the Tigers’ intense pressure.
The Tigers cruised to the 22-13 lead after one quarter, and extended it to 40-30 at halftime.
The Jays pulled to within one point midway through the second quarter (25-24), but an old-fashioned 3-point play by Quennoz revved up the Skyline momentum for the duration.
“Everybody just had to do their job,” Barb said of the defensive effort.
Communication comes and goes, Barb said, which is one thing the team plans on ironing out during the stretch run of the regular season.
The Tigers are potent — and can strike at any moment — and the trio makes head coach Kevin Cheek’s job a bit easier.
But the grit is what he noticed on this night.
“There were a lot of kids out there who didn’t want to lose,” Cheek said. “I think that is where it comes from. It is fun. We got off to a good start, and for us, that’s important.”
Clever — much like their opponent — have solid players inside and out.
“They have so many weapons. We had to have a defensive game plan that we would stick with,” Cheek said. “We have to be somewhat disruptive defensively.”
Offensively, Cheek has been coaching up balance — which was paramount in the win.
“Beating Clever here, and as good as they are, I am pretty proud of our kids this evening,” Cheek said.
For head coach Dan Jones and his Lady Jays, the loss can galvanize or hurt his team moving forward.
The choice is theirs, he said.
“We haven’t played enough teams, really, like that,” Jones said of Skyline’s offensive balance. “Defensively, we prepared for it in practice. We knew what we had to control and we just didn’t. We came back out and played about the worst fundamental defense you can play. We have to decide we are going to do what we are supposed to do defensively, or we are just going to be an OK team.”
Clever drops to 14-5.
Skyline 22 18 11 20 (Crawford-24; Barb-22; Quennoz-16; Gunter-6; Nothnagel-2; Edwards-2).
Clever 13 17 8 17 (Clevenger led with 27 points; M. Simpson-11; Gladney-10; Brown-7).