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Wildcats' 'D' denies Liberty

December 23, 2006|by CHRIS CARTER / Staff Correspondent

WILLIAMSPORT - The Williamsport girls basketball team had a clear size advantage Friday night against Liberty.

But it was what the Wildcats did with their defensive pressure that helped propel them to victory.

Williamsport smothered the Lions with its full-court press, forcing 30 turnovers, and the Wildcats posted a 46-32 win.

"The best part of the game was defense," said Williamsport coach Chris Malott. "We played a man press for most of the game and the intensity we showed was nice. We played four quarters of good, tough defense."

Morgan Smith and Leah Mellott each made five steals and the Wildcats (2-2) crowded any Liberty player who touched the ball to force several traveling violations.

Liberty (1-5) committed eight turnovers in each of the first three quarters as Williamsport gradually extended its lead. The Wildcats led by nine at halftime, but opened the third quarter with the first three baskets - two by Smith and one by Mellott - to take a 26-11 lead.

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Smith had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

"I just wanted to go up strong and finish strong," Smith said. "We had the height and we could jump higher than them and we just used it to our advantage."

The Wildcats' size advantage complemented their defensive pressure, especially in the paint, where they consistently drew contact from Liberty defenders. The undersized Lions piled up 27 fouls and sent Williamsport to the foul line 38 times. But the Wildcats stumbled at the line, hitting just 17 - and only 8 of 23 in the first half.

"That's been our Achilles heel for a long time here," Malott said. "It was the same way last year and we have a lot of the same people back. We work on it in practice and try to figure out a way to get going, but it still hurts us in game situations."

Williamsport was fortunate that its free-throw struggles didn't become a factor at the end, but the Wildcats managed to improve down the stretch and went 9-for-14 in the fourth quarter.

Foul trouble affected Liberty much earlier, as two players picked up three fouls in the opening quarter. The Lions were already in the double-bonus with seven minutes left in the half and the frequent stoppages in play stymied their offense.

"When play gets stopped as much as it did, it's tough to get any momentum going," Liberty coach Joe Reiter said. "We couldn't do what we wanted to do, both offensively and defensively."

No Liberty player managed to crack double figures scoring, but Alex Mercer - easily the Lions' tallest player - came off the bench to grab 10 rebounds.

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