In an act of preventive maintenance, Bunn girls basketball coach Matt Keith prefers to utilize a zone defense in the early portion of games — and then switch to his club’s preferred man-to-man strategy at the appropriate moment.
“We are very aggressive as a team, so we find starting in a zone keeps us out of foul trouble,’’ Keith said.
Corinth Holders was able to dent the Wildcats’ zone early in Tuesday’s championship contest of the Bunn Christmas Tournament. But once the Wildcats shifted to a man-to-man late in the second period, they were able to take control en route to delivering a 61-47 victory at the Bunn Dome.
The title was Bunn’s (7-2) second straight at its own tournament, with both conquests coming against the Pirates (7-5), who continue to deal with consistency issues this season under coach Brandy Smith.
“We came here (Monday) and played very well against an athletic Enloe team in the semifinals,’’ Smith said. “We came back to play Bunn and were a completely different team. We have to find that consistent play, and that’s what we talked about in the locker room after the game.’’
Both squads are known for their uptempo abilities, but they seemed to neutralize each other as part of an opening half that featured plenty of half-court action, Bunn’s intense defense helped the Wildcats earn some transtion baskets in a decisive third period that saw the Ladycats move ahead for good.
“We talked at halftime about how we needed to get out and create some easy baskets,’’ Keith said. “And on the other end, we knew we had to keep Corinth Holders from doing the same thing. We had seem them play and we knew they liked to run with the ball. We had to get back and play good defense, and I felt like we did a good job of that.’’
Bunn trailed 29-23 at halftime but outscored the Pirates 15-1 in the third quarter. Bernadette Cooke began the spurt with a trifecta and ensuing steal and layup, and backcourt mate Precious Walker tackled on seven points in a two-minute span, including another long-ranged three-pointer.
Corinth Holders didn’t score in the frame until Shaniya Taylor’s free throw at the 1:29 mark. The Pirates were able to convert a basket until Melanie Tola’s layup with 6:47 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With Corinth Holders forced to come out of its preferred 1-3-1 defense in favor of a matchup man-to-man, the Wildcats continued to increase their advantage, which grew to as many as 16 points down the stretch.
“Bunn changed up some things defensively,’’ Smith said. “They went with a man defense, but were sagging inside. It kind of confused our girls. Things just started to go (Bunn’s) way and we did not respond. The most disappointing thing is that (the Wildcats) extended their lead so much; that’s not the way I like to end games.’’
Three who mattered
Bernadette Cooke, Bunn: The game featured a matchup of elite point guards as Cooke, a sophomore, dueled with Taylor, who is enjoying a strong campaign for the Pirates.
Cooke came through with a season-high 28 points, which included 10-of-11 free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter. Seventeen of Cooke’s points came in the final frame as she earned Tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
“”I just tried to play my game and hustle as much as I could,’’ Cooke said. “We knew this was going to be a tough one. We did what Coach Keith told us and were very focused on getting this victory on our home court.’’
Said Keith: “Bernadette really accepted the challenge. Her free-throw shooting made a big difference, and she even hit a couple of 3-pointers.’’
Precious Walker, Bunn: A four-year starter at guard, the sharpshooting Walker poured in 20 points, including five treys. The All-Tourney pick also helped against Taylor on the defensive end and played a key role in Bunn’s uptempo shift in the third period.
Melanie Tola, Corinth Holders: The Pirates’ post player offered 11 points, seven rebounds and one blocked shot while picking up an All-Tournament selection. She tallied all but seven of Corinth Holders’ points in the second half.
Keira Gallatin, Bunn: The improved play of transfer Cressida Duncan has meant that Gallatin, a former starter at forward, is serving as the Wildcats’ top reserve this season. But with Duncan out of town visiting her former home in Kentucky, Gallatin played all 32 minutes during Tuesday’s championship showdown and provided effective play in the paint.
“Keira was our only person who didn’t leave the floor the entire game,’’ Keith said. “We had some girls talking about how fatigued they were, and I just showed them what Keira was doing.’’
By the numbers
48: The points Bunn received from its talented backcourt duo of Walker and Cooke.
0: Corinth Holders has never been able to defeat the Wildcats, who were the Pirates’ former rivals in the Northern Carolina Conference. The squads played a tight contest in last year’s tournament finale, with Bunn pulling away in the final minute for a victory.
3: The Pirates’ double-figure scorers, with Taylor leading the way with 12 points, all but one of which were in the first half. Maddie Gladwell and Tola contributed 11 markers apiece.
13:37: The time Corinth Holders went without scoring a basket -- from late in the second period to early in the fourth stanza.