It was a chess match between two excellent coaches and a tense battle on the floor.
When it was done, the Wood River High School girls' varsity basketball team had carved another notch on its belt and erased one more long losing streak at Burley's expense.
Tuesday night, the upstart Wolverines (9-1, 2-1 league) won their fourth consecutive game by staying in the zone, literally, that is, staying in a ferocious zone defense that limited the Bobcats (6-4, 1-2) to just 14 points after half, and only 19 in the final three quarters.
Wood River defeated Burley 38-29 on the Hailey hardwoods to snap a 32-game losing skid to Bobcat teams that stretched way back to 1984, 25 years ago. More often than not, those losses to Burley were painful drubbings by 30 points or more.
Not Tuesday night, though. It was such a fierce defensive chess match that observers guessed the first team to 30 points might win the game.
They were right. Senior guard Alex Lindbloom (4 points, 4 assists) made a huge 16-footer for a 25-25 tie and then dished off a great pass to Monica Garceau (8 points, 6 rebounds) that put the Wolverines ahead for good 27-25. Five different Wolverines ended up scoring in the final period as Hailey outscored its foes 15-6.
Wood River coach Mendy Benson said, "It seemed like our intensity and ball pressure wore them down. I think they had to think a lot and figure out how to adjust to the fact that we worked really hard to take their bread-and-butter (their post game) away.
"Burley has three solid posts—we have four—and Monica and Haylee Thompson (6 points, 6 rebounds) I thought played extremely well especially defensively and on the boards in the second half.
"It was a great battle, definitely never easy. Once we tasted we really could win, I think the girls wanted it more."
Burley coach Gordon Kerbs, who guided the 'Cats to two straight Great Basin Conference titles in 2006-07 and a State 4A championship in 2007, played his trump card early. He assigned his best all-around player, 5-10 senior post Teresa Wayment, to defend Wood River sophomore guard and top scorer KT Martinez (13.2 ppg).
Said Benson, "A great move, because she (Wayment) is tall and hard to shoot over, but quick enough to stay with KT. I think KT knows she is always going to draw the opponent's best defender. The thing with KT is she is such a great competitor that she will find a way to make a major contribution to the game—whether it's steals, intensity, leadership, ball pressure or scoring, you name it. If you try to limit one part of her game, you're only going to elevate another part."
Martinez (6 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 assists) scored six of her 10 points when the teams were still feeling each other out in the second. She stepped it up big time after Wayment picked up her fourth personal foul midway through the fourth.
She penetrated and passed to Thompson, who banked one home for a 29-25 lead. She came up with a steal, drove past Wayment and scored for a 31-25 lead with three minutes left, then penetrated again leading to a clutch Garceau bank, 33-27.
The zone defense did the rest—Lindbloom and Martinez trapping on the perimeter, with Garceau, Thompson and Grace Lagodich moving from side to side in the forward positions.
Second-year coach Benson said, "I went to the 3-2 because last year they didn't know how to beat it and I figured it was a chance worth taking. I also like to mix defenses because I think most high school players have a hard time reading what we're in and it interrupts their flow."
Lagodich scored 5 points and was 3-for-4 at the free throw line in the final minute. Sophomore post Cheyenne Swanson (4 points, 5 boards) struggled with fouls but still contributed. Wood River out-rebounded Burley 25-17.
Benson said, "I think teams playing Wood River truly feel they should win because they always have. I think our girls are drawing on the fact that they have been working hard together since the fifth grade, that they really put in some valuable time this summer, and that they have made a commitment to give their best efforts mentally, physically and emotionally every day.
"They know they finally deserve to have success. That inner confidence is making all the difference."
Wood River played Canyon Ridge (0-10, 0-4) at home Thursday night and wraps up its pre-holiday slate against Minico (7-2, 3-0) at Rupert next Tuesday.
Ranked #2 in the Idahosports.com poll, two-time defending league champ Jerome (9-1, 3-0) won its eighth straight Tuesday 63-47 at Twin Falls (5-5, 1-3). The Tigers visited #4-ranked Minico Thursday and return to Burley Saturday. Burley played Twin Thursday.
WOLVERINE NOTES—Wood River has played 12 quarters of basketball against Great Basin Conference opponents—and has held its league foes below double digits in eight of those quarters.....This year's team has improved its scoring average by 10 points over last year's Wolverine squad, and has cut its per-game defensive liabilities by seven points, to 34.4 ppg.....At the free throw line, Wood River has improved four percentage points, from 58% to 62%.....The Wolverines have only 10 3-pointers in 10 games, an average of one per game.
Wood River's last success of any kind against Burley came in 1984, when the 8-12 Wolverines led by Alisa Wright and Dana Pidgeon captured four of their eight wins over Burley.....The two teams haven't played every year, but since Wood River entered the 4A Great Basin in 2005, Burley had won 13 straight over the Wolverines before Tuesday night....Wood River now has a 6-42 all-time record against Burley teams since the Hailey school started playing girls' basketball in 1976...Current freshman coach J.C. Nemecek can remember being the head Wood River coach in 1991, when Burley manhandled Wood River 60-16 and 81-14.
Benson said about Tuesday's four-point first quarter output against Burley, "I'm not sure why we came out flat—we were so excited to play! Turnovers were brutal in the first half (12 for Wood River, 20 for the game), but we addressed the why's at halftime and it seemed to take care of it. I thought Burley came out strong and they definitely had the mental upper
hand. I think they wanted NOT to lose more than we wanted to win in the beginning and then once we tasted that we really could win, I think the girls wanted it a more."
Talking about going away from her team's full-court defensive pressure, Benson said, "Burley's adjustments to breaking our press were solid, and I thought our half court defense would do just as good a job as the press of creating turnovers and we wouldn't expend as much energy trying to do both. The closer you get toward the end of the season, the less and less presses are effective because good teams learn how to break them."
Referring to her zone defenses, Benson said, "We were 3-2 makes, man misses and 2-3 some off of timeouts and dead balls. I believe if you play man well, you can play any defenses well because the concepts all stem from man-to-man.
Benson said about her personnel decisions during games, "Many times my 'who should be in the game right now' decisions are just gut decisions, and I told the girls that until my gut proves wrong we're going to stick with it."