RALEIGH — If Tuesday night’s game between Panther Creek and Athens Drive’s girls basketball teams is any indication, the 2013-14 season for the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference will be pretty fun.
The Catamounts won their conference opener 66-63 at Athens with a gritty performance in a game that featured five runs of 8-0 or more.
In the end, Panther Creek (8-3, 1-0 SWAC) did just enough to hold off Athens, which struggled down the stretch.
Turning point: Briane Thornton drilled Athens’ first 3-pointer of the game to tie the score at 58-58 with 3:55 left, but the Jaguars turned the ball over on eight of its next nine possessions.
“I think they were getting anxious,” Athens coach Dayna Jordan said. “They were feeling like they needed to score and get back on top and started forcing things and not calming down and playing their game.”
Shotomei Greaux scored PC’s final eight points, including sinking six of eight free throws in the final 3:44. Those were all of Greaux’s points.
Unsung hero: Cassie Zietlow not only drew the defensive assignment on Athens’ leading scorer Grace Hunter, but she also led the Catamounts with 15 points. The sophomore had six of those points in the fourth quarter, hitting four consecutive free throws to keep PC ahead.
“She got the assignment on (Hunter) a lot,” Panther Creek coach Danielle Moore said. “She played well on both ends.”
Putting up numbers: Panther Creek scored the first nine points of the game, but Athens responded with the next 11. The Jaguars’ spurt continued with the first 10 points of the second quarter before Panther Creek went on a 13-0 spree to retake the lead at halftime 36-31. Athens (4-4, 1-1) bounced back with the first eight points of the second half, and the game became a back-and-forth battle from there.
“I think it’s just confidence,” Jordan said of the streaky play. “A lot of times with girls, it’s just confidence. Once you score a couple buckets, then you feel it, you play that much harder and that much faster. That’s what happened when it went back-and-forth.”
What worked: The Catamounts played a box-and-one defense the entire game, with four players in a zone and one blanketing Hunter. She still managed to score 28 points, but her teammates struggled.
“Everyone knows that Grace is our leading scorer, our go-to girl,” Jordan said. “They throw different girls at her on a regular basis. Our other girls are just learning to step up and what their role has to be.”
Zietlow said she watched film from Cardinal Gibbons’ game against Athens and tried to do what the Crusaders did.
“I was first thinking I knew I had to play well,” Zietlow said. “This had to be one of my best defensive games ever. We watched film, and she could drive to the basket, she could drive and then pull out and shoot. I knew I had to watch her and have my teammates help me out.”
Needs improvement: In addition to the eight turnovers in the final four minutes, Athens missed 10 of its 16 shots in the first quarter, many from point-blank range. Jordan and her staff spent several minutes after the game going over key points with their team, stressing staying calm under pressure, taking care of the ball, making smart passes and running the offense against the zone.
“It was a very good learning experience for us,” Jordan said.
Best quote: “We’re definitely a family,” Zietlow said. “Tonight was perfect. It was like our first coming-out (party). We’re surprising people. We lost seven seniors, so we’re surprising everyone, and it’s going great.”
Feeling the impact: If PC can continue to play its team game, the Catamounts will be tough this season. Ten players scored, and all who played made contributions. PC doesn’t have a superstar, but that means teams have to defend all five players on the floor.
“It’s a night-by-night thing,” Moore said. “We need somebody different to step up every night. It’s going to be a team effort for us all season long. But as a coach, that’s a fun thing to have, to have everybody contributing and truly be a good, well-rounded team.”