Walled Lake Western slows the pace to get past Waterford Mott, regain firm control of the LVC race
COMMERCE TWP. — Part of being able to dictate the pace of a game is knowing when the way you WANT to play isn’t the way you NEED to play.
Since veteran coach Steve Emert took over at Walled Lake Western, he’s had the Warriors playing the style that helped him record more than 400 wins: up in your face, full-court pressure, and an unmercifully tiring pace of running up and down the floor.
Facing a bigger and stronger Waterford Mott team that had already beaten his Warriors once, though, that didn’t seem to work, so Western contented itself with playing more of a half court contest Tuesday, and running when and if it could.
It resulted in a 44-37 win that put the Warriors squarely back in charge of the Lakes Valley Conference race.
“Mott’s big, strong, quick, and they’ve got some shooters, and we knew that. We did adapt. We usually come at you full court, and we had to make an adaptation, and the girls understood that. I’m really proud of them taking over, and understanding what we needed to do,” Emert said. “It’s like I tell people who say you’re running all the time: well, we run all the time, but we have the capability of slowing it down. If we were a slow-down team, then it’s difficult to pick up your tempo. In reverse, that was to our advantage. …
“The kids understand, we have to play to the game, as long as we control our tempo.”
The loss leaves Mott (12-5, 10-3 LVC) a half-game behind South Lyon East (10-5, 10-2 LVC), and a game-and-a-half behind Western (13-3, 11-1 LVC). East hosts Western on Friday, then hosts Mott on Feb. 25.
“This is a tough week. We knew our next three ballgames were going to be tough … That’s the gamut, right there. That’s a tough gamut,” Emert said. “We call it our ‘Championship Series’ right now.”
It’s the type of pressure that the Warriors are familiar with.
The Corsairs have less experience in that type of situation.
“Probably. Western’s been here, won the league three years in a row, they’ve played in plenty of games that are tight, championship games, first-place games. We really haven’t been in that situation,” Mott coach Michelle Sklar said. “We were up for this game. We were also at home (the first time). I think they’re a very mentally tough team, and that’s something we need to get better at.”
Mott knocked off Western at home on Jan. 21, then lost their next contest at home to East, putting the Cougars, Warriors and Corsairs in a three-way tie for first. Both East and Mott lost another league game — Mott fell to Walled Lake Northern, 32-29, on Feb. 4, the same night East lost 38-35 to Walled Lake Central — putting Western back in the driver’s seat. Tuesday’s win just cemented the Warriors more firmly in the lead.
“The kids are starting to get an identity. It took a while to get it, but top to bottom, it was good,” Emert said. “I have a friend of mine who scouts us every year about the ninth ballgame. We want him to give an assessment, and one of his assessments was that when we run the floor, we’re very fluid and rhythmic in our offense, but when we got in the half-court offense, we weren’t as fluid and rhythmic. So that’s something that we’ve really put a lot of time in, to improve upon.”
That improved ability to play a half-court game played dividends Tuesday, when the Warriors backed off their normal frenetic pressure.
“We hit some shots. The first time we played them, we were 6-for-30 from the 3. That really hurts you, and we got out rebounded almost double. We put an emphasis on blocking out,” Emert said. “Then the other thing we put a lot of emphasis on was execution: over and over and over. Make strong cuts, make good cuts. Sprint. Because the first time we played them, we were slow on our cuts.”
Mott led 12-8 after one quarter, but Western ripped off a 12-0 run in the second quarter to go ahead 22-14. The Corsairs scored the final two baskets of the second quarter, leaving them down just four, 22-18, at the half, and feeling pretty decent, all things considered.
“We had, I want to say, about 12 turnovers at the half, which is one of those things that we’re either up or down. The second half, I thought we took pretty good care of the ball, but the first half, we had way too many turnovers, and ones that led to points for them. And, that’s a killer,” Sklar said. “We missed a lot of free throws, a lot of layups. We had some putbacks. I thought we did a good job of crashing the boards, and then all f a sudden, late in the game, we just kinda stopped. That kind of hurt us, because that was one of the things that was helping us. We had good looks. They play a lot of zone, and we kind of took them out of the zone, and they went man(-to-man), and I thought we got good shots. We just gotta put them in the basket, and hit our free throws.”
Western’s lead was 34-28 headed to the fourth, and they hit 10 of 12 free throws in the final period — enough to sustain them, offensively, without the benefit of a field goal in the final frame — to win it.
The Corsairs cut it to three points, 39-36, on a 3-pointer by Aleea Austin with 1:45 left, but would only score one more point the rest of the way, while Western was 5-for-6 from the line.
Abby Upleger had 20 points for Mott to lead all scorers, while Jenna Galecki had 15 to lead Western, Olivia Warren added 12, and Lia Krawiec had 11.