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The Lady Tigers had no problem handling Kickapoo’s zone defense, hitting 12 three’s in the game while forcing 20 turnovers on defense.
Ozark coach Yancey Little has been impressed with his team’s defense.
“More active,” said Little. “That’s the biggest thing I can say is we’ve been more active on defense. We caused a few more turnovers; caused a little more helter-skelter.”
In the first quarter, Ozark jumped out to a 13-1 start, hitting from the outside as the Lady Tigers easily handled the Lady Chief’s 1-3-1 zone. Then Little dialed up the full-court pressure, which ended up causing nine Kickapoo turnovers in the first quarter.
With no seniors on the team, the Lady Chiefs start two freshmen and two sophomores – and their inexperience showed. Kickapoo struggled to find any rhythm offensively as Ozark’s defense kept them from penetrating and getting the ball inside to their 6-foot sophomore, Natalie Closser. Kickapoo only scored two field goals in the first quarter – all fast break points off turnovers created by freshman Laura Vierkant.
Ozark led 20-6 heading into the second quarter – where it was more of the same.
While Kickapoo changed up its zone, the Lady Tigers continued to hit from the outside. But the Lady Chiefs found a spark, going on a 5-0 run, which warranted a timeout by Ozark.
The timeout squashed any hopes of the Lady Chiefs making a comeback, as Ozark went on a 15-0 run with a help from Hannah Cook’s defense, which led to several easy layups.
The Lady Tigers ended the half up 43-13, with 19 of those points scored by Cook.
Little said Cook has been very good in the open floor, anticipating passes and causing turnovers with her long 5’11” frame. And even though the junior guard has been one of the Lady Tigers’ leading scorers this year (she finished with a game-high 21), she’s partial to defense.
“Honestly, I like playing defense (better than offense),” said Cook. “I like getting after people; stealing the ball and getting a fast break every once in a while.”
The second-half of the game showed a little more drive from Kickapoo, as they started to take, and hit, some open outside shots they weren’t taking in the first-half. Freshman Annie Lewis hit three 3-pointers in the half on her way to a 12-point night.
Down low, Closser was also able to get the ball for some easy points – ending the night with 12 points.
But it wasn’t enough to catch up with Ozark’s 30-point lead from half. With just over a minute left in the third quarter, Little pulled his starters from the game. After three quarters, the Lady Tigers were up 61-22.
In the fourth quarter, with Ozark’s bench on the court, Kickapoo found more success on offense, especially down low with Closser getting some easy looks.
After putting up only 13 points in the first-half, the Lady Chiefs scored 38 in the second-half – including 19 in the final period.
After the game, Little said he wanted to see his team find more points in the paint than they have been – and not rely so much on the low-percentage, outside shot. While senior Haylee Beard, along with Cook and Clancy, have become long-ball threats, the Lady Tigers’ inside game is almost non-existent.
One way to expand Ozark’s offense is to try getting post player Jackie Fugate more involved.
“We do have to get some inside play,” said Little. “Jackie has been efficient, but again, she hasn’t been getting enough touches. Part of that is because she’s not demanding the ball at times and sometimes she’s been in foul trouble. … But when she touches it, good things happen.”
Ozark had two players in double digits – Cook with 21 and Beard with 17. For Kickapoo, Vierkant led with 14, followed by Lewis and Closser with 12 each.
The Lady Tigers will travel to St. Joseph Benton on Friday, while the Lady Chiefs have the rest of the week off before heading to Camdenton on Monday for a conference matchup.