DIXON – Things were clicking early on for the Sauk Valley women’s basketball team Tuesday night.
But when Madison turned up the pressure, the Skyhawks struggled to get into their offense in a 78-62 loss.
“That’s been our weak link for a while: it’s like as soon as someone pressures us, we crumble,” first-year head coach Jamie Russell said. “We’ve been working on it everyday in practice, but it’s been the same issue. We knew they were going to do it, and we’ve thrown in multiple press-breaks. We’ve just got to get used to the speed.”
Sauk Valley (0-3) started quickly out of the gate, closing the first quarter on a 13-0 run. Zoe Carr had 11 of Sauk’s first 13 points, and Avery Fox found Shian Galbreath for a 3-pointer on a drive-and-kick play to cap the run for an 18-4 lead.
Breanna Fisher’s basket and Fox’s 3 early in the second quarter put the Skyhawks up 23-8 with 6:02 left before halftime.
“That’s one of our positives tonight,” Carr said. “We definitely were running our offense, working it around, getting it in and kicking it out if you had a double-team. Our offense is really good, we’ve just to execute it more.”
But Madison (2-2) finally found its footing in the full-court press, and things turned quickly. Aniah Williams had nine points in a 16-0 run as Madison took the lead, but Sauk answered with a Carr basket in the paint and a Miranda Hewitt dribble-drive for a 27-26 lead at halftime.
“We’ve got to get a mentality where once you’re up, you’ve got to go even harder,” Russell said. “Just sustaining those leads is something we’ve got to work on.”
“It’s something that we’ve been working on since the beginning of the season,” Carr added, “and we’ve just got to keep climbing, but we’ll eventually get there. We have different press-breakers that we’re trying, and we just have to find the right one that clicks.”
The Skyhawks opened the second half with a pretty pick-and-roll play from Fox to Fisher for a layup, then ran the same play the next trip down the floor with Carr setting the pick, and Fox popped a jumper from the keyhole when the defense didn’t rotate to her for a 31-26 lead.
But Madison had another big run, this time a sustained 27-11 run over the next 8 minutes, to take control, and lead 53-42 heading into the final quarter.
“We knew our game plan was to put on a lot of pressure … so we knew if we applied that pressure, that was going to generate our offense,” Madison coach Lois Heeren said. “We just couldn’t get our pressure going right away to generate that offense, and then we made a nice little run in that second quarter, and I knew if we just continued being relentless like that, we’d be OK.”
Sauk battled back within 58-48 as Carr scored a layup, hit a free throws, and then converted a three-point play with 6:55 to play. The Skyhawks still trailed by 10, 60-50, when Fisher scored on a pretty pass from Galbreath 45 seconds later.
But Madison again had the answer, as Williams, Karlee Van Gysel and Kyianna Baker took turns taking turnovers in the backcourt and scoring layups off of them. A 13-4 run pushed the margin back to 73-54 with 3:10 to go, and ended the Skyhawks’ comeback chances.
“Give Sauk credit, because they play hard and they took us out of our game a little bit early on,” Heeren said. “It just took us awhile to settle down, and when we did, I liked what I saw in the third and fourth quarters. We created some separation, and that’s what we wanted to do at halftime. I was pleased with how we came out and played in the second half.”
Williams scored 26 points and blocked two shots, and Van Gysel added 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals for Madison. Amber Sue Udelhoven added 12 points, and Baker (6 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals) and Lilly Dorman (8 points, 11 rebounds) played well in the paint.
Carr led all played with 27 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Skyhawks. Hewitt scored nine, Fisher finished with eight points and three rebounds, and Galbreath had seven points, four steals and three assists. Fox chipped in five points and five assists, Savannah Skinner finished with four points, four rebounds and two steals, and Noelle Jones scored two points and grabbed four rebounds.
“We had multiple contributors, and that’s what we want, so that’s promising,” Russell said. “The fact that we can get up like that, and we can all contribute, that’s what I want, so I can’t be too disappointed in that.”
Madison 78, Sauk Valley 62
Star of the game: Zoe Carrm Sauk, 27 points, 15 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 steal
Key performers: Aniah Williams, Madison, 26 points, 2 blocks; Karlee Van Gysel, Madison, 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals; Lilly Dorman, Madison, 8 points, 11 rebounds; Kyianna Baker, Madison, 6 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals; Miranda Hewitt, Sauk, 9 points; Breanna Fisher, Sauk, 8 points, 3 rebounds; Shian Galbreath, Sauk, 7 points, 4 steals, 3 assists
Up next: Sauk Valley at Malcolm X, 5:30 p.m. Thursday