Nazareth took a slightly different approach in their non-conference matchup against No. 17 Whitney Young.
Usually known for their high pressure defense to try and speed teams up, the No. 4 Roadrunners, slowed things down a bit in the second half by switching to a zone look.
The change in scheme worked, as Nazareth only gave up 16 second half points to defeat Whitney 64-49, and improving their record to 22-2 overall record.
“That was just a fun game of basketball,” said Nazareth head coach Eddie Stritzel. “We’re really happy to have Whitney back on the schedule. There was great pace, great environment and even the referees told me that it was a fun game to ref.”
“We’ve been looking forward to this game for a while,” added Nazarath guard Annie Stritzel. “As soon as we let go of our nerves and just had fun, we eventually got after it.”
Even though it was Nazareth’s zone that won the game for them in the second half, both teams started off the game playing at a frantic pace.
The speed of the game initially worked in Nazareth’s favor as the Roadrunners put up 24 points in the opening quarter, including Stritzel’s 1000th career point.
But the tide changed early in the second quarter, as Whitney Young brought the house with a full court press, continually turning Nazareth over and scoring 25 points of their own, turning a nine point deficit into a 40-38 halftime lead.
Coach Stritzel said: “They turned us over there in the second quarter but we know we have five girls who can handle the basketball, and we would settle down eventually.”
With the quick guards from Whitney blowing by the Nazareth defense, the adjustment to zone couldn’t have come at a better time as the Roadrunners regained the lead straight away with a 10-2 run to start the second half.
“We feel that we’re a multi-dimensional team, and even though they have good shooters, I had a good about the zone,” said Coach Stritzel. “We wanted to wait until halftime to make our adjustments and I thought we felt really comfortable there.”
Not only did the zone confuse Whitney Young’s offense, when the Dolphins were able to make their way into the lane, they were greeted by the 6’4″ Alyssa Geary who finished the night with her third, triple-double of the season with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocks.
After taking a five point lead into the fourth quarter, Nazareth really started to pour it on, keeping calm under Whitney’s defensive pressure while continuing to keep the Dolphins offense at bay.
Geary said: “We knew we could handle the pressure, we just had to slow down a little bit and not dribble into corners. We do something funny, this calming thing in the huddle but that’s really about it.”
“Yea, if we’re playing too fast we take a second and someone told us to meditate, I don’t actually know,” added Annie Stritzel. “It’s silly and really weird but it definitely helps with composing ourselves.”
The Roadrunners opened up a double digit lead early in the fourth quarter behind Stritzel’s game high 29 points. Whitney were never able to get back into the game as Nazareth would finish off the 64-49 win.
Despite being classified as a 3A school, Nazareth have played an extremely difficult schedule, even by 4A standards with the game against Whitney being the most recent example of games against top-20 competition.
With the way their schedule panned out, it can be argued that Nazareth is the most playoff ready team in class 3A and has a good of a shot as any to knock off downstate powerhouse Morton in the state finals.
“We’ve played eight out of the top-20 schools in the area and that doesn’t even include the team from Iowa,” said Coach Stritzel. “I think we’re right there with anybody.”
Nazareth will take a break from top-20 competition with a conference game against Carmel on Wednesday, while Whitney is looking to continue their run in the city playoffs with a quarterfinal game against Harlan.