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Defensive Confrontation

Lady Cougars square off with No. 1 Southern Lab in quarterfinal action
Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Cedar Creek looks to pull off the upset against No. 1 Southern Lab in the Division IV Select quarterfinals tonight. Photo by Darrell James

Whichever team between No. 9 Cedar Creek (17-11) and No. 1 Southern Lab (25-7) is more sound defensively will come out on top in tonight’s Division IV Select quarterfinal matchup.

That’s how Creek head coach Katie Hall is approaching her team’s second straight road playoff game, one that has the Lady Cougars facing one of the top teams in the state for the second time in the last three postseasons.

If Creek can limit its mistakes and not hand over easy scoring opportunities off turnovers, Hall said the Lady Cougars have a chance to hang with the top-ranked Kittens.

“They definitely play with confidence and tenacity on defense. Their best offense is their defense and they get after you and provide full-court pressure and man- to- man defense in the half-court. We’re going to have to be ready and take care of the ball if we want to win,” Hall said.

Southern Lab hasn’t lost since Jan. 31 and held its last four opponents, including Monday’s win over No. 16 St. Mary’s, to under 26 points per game.

But Creek has showcased its defense can put together dominant performances as well, holding No. 8 St. Martin’s and No. 24 Slaughter Community Charter to a combined 56 points and 69 turnovers in the playoffs – with both teams shooting under 25% from the field.

Hall feels like Creek has gotten better recently at limiting its mistakes but said it’s going to take an entire game of execution to take down Southern Lab.

“We’ve gotten better with taking care of the ball but we still deal with some unforced turnovers. If we let them play us and not give an unforced turnover, then it’s a different game,” Hall said.

Given Southern Lab’s man defense in half- court looks, Creek has worked on post feeds and moving the ball inside-out to take advantage of the Kittens’ spreadout defense to allow Leah Sutherland, Zoey Venters, or Alivia Lee to have chances inside.

But if the post game isn’t working, Southern Lab will have to honor the scoring threat of Creek guard Mallory Smith, who’s put up 47 points through two playoff wins.

Hall said Creek’s advantage comes from not just one player taking over on offense and said if Southern Lab over- emphasizes on Smith, that leaves opportunities for others to score. And it’ll take execution to make that happen.

“I believe in them. And their confidence has grown throughout the season,” Hall said. “At the beginning of the season it was hard to see who was going to step up but I’ve been so impressed with their heart and their desire to play hard and get most out of themselves.”

No. 9 Cedar Creek travels to No. 1 Southern Lab tonight at 6 p.m. The winner will advance to Marsh Madness in Hammond.