WINSTED >> The past caught up with veteran Northwestern girls basketball coach Fred Williams Thursday night in a 40-31 Canton (9-5) win at Northwestern High School (10-5).
First-year Canton coach Brian Medeiros learned his team’s match-up zone in part by coaching AAU teams with Williams in the summer.
“I was more nervous about this game than any other on our schedule. It’s like playing against your Dad,” said Medeiros, whose Warriors play in a tough North Central Connecticut Conference (NCCC).
Williams is the master of a defense that drives teams crazy while holding them to a slow-paced game often ending in the 30s.
When the Warriors unfolded their 2-3 matchup zone, it was like looking in the mirror for Williams — with one huge exception.
“Fred wants to keep scores in the 40s; we want to get them in the 50s,” said Medeiros.
Ultimately, they hit a compromise final in the 40s and 50s, but the master was on the wrong end.
“Canton is very athletic,” said Williams. “They’re stronger individually than we are.”
To shoot for his goal in the 50s, Medeiros knows he has to pick up the pace against opponents — especially against Williams.
“We have to turn people over,” Medeiros said.
Going deep into his bench, he threw an effective full-court press at the Highlanders for almost the entire game.
“It all came down to how well we could handle the pressure,” said Williams.
In a free-wheeling game with sparse whistles from the refs, Northwestern did fine in the first half, largely because the Highlanders were fresh and Canton threw up low percentage shots.
“It takes us so long to get going,” said Medeiros.
Northwestern built a 6-0 lead in the first four minutes, on a press-break-layup by Kelsi Hodgkin, a five-foot runner by Emma Beltrandi (11 points) and an outside shot from Liz Newkirk (11 points).
Meanwhile, the Warriors forced six layup misses and an outside air ball in their first four possessions.
Medeiros called a time out to settle them.
Erin Detorie (8 points) responded with Canton’s first basket, on put-back.
Mistakes on both sides contributed to a low-scoring 8-4 lead after one quarter.
Beltrandi fought off the Warrior defensive crowd for the first two baskets in the second, 12-4.
Then Canton sophomore Maggie Treacy (game-high 13 points, 6 steals) found her stride, first with a three, then in a steal and back-to-back layups to close the first half 17-13, Northwestern.
“It’s hard, but it’s worth it,” said Treacy, a two-year starter who’s learned to appreciate the Warriors’ scrambling full-court pressure that sometimes changes from 2-3 to 1-3-1 and often brings a secondary trap once a team escapes the first one.
The Highlanders came out of a taxing first half, physically and mentally, like a team that was very sick of Canton’s press.
“We count on wearing them down,” said Medeiros.
In the second half’s opening moments, Highlander Kathleen Wysocki kept pace from the outside with a put-back by Canton’s Detorie. Then five Warrior steals helped bring them two leads and a hair-thin 24-23 deficit by the end of the third.
“We just don’t play smart,” said Williams, frustrated with his team’s play against the never-ending press. “A couple of times, we do it right. Other times, we panic.”
Northwestern’s Newkirk (6 steals) led some good Highlander half-court defense, but Canton’s constant physical pressure (29-19 in turnovers) had Northwestern’s emotional gauge leading toward panic in the final period.
Freshman Emily Briggs (6 steals) began it with a steal and her own put-back for another Canton lead, 25-24.
Newkirk, a calm senior captain, went out on the baseline to bring the lead back, 26-25, Northwestern.
That was the final high for the Highlanders.
Warriors Jacquie Grabowski and Detorie scored the game’s next eight points, 33-26, Canton.
The game wasn’t coming back to Northwestern, despite a full-court effort of its own.
Worse, with 1:21 left in the game, Northwestern’s Wysocki went down with a knee injury.
“I just don’t feel as happy as I should about the win,” said Coach Medeiros, with a nod to his mentor, Coach Williams.
Canton 40, Northwestern 31
At Northwestern High School
Canton 4 9 10 17—40
Northwestern 8 9 7 7—31
Canton (40): Erin Detorie 4-0-8; Lindsay Sugar 0-0-0; Katie Walker 0-0-0; Emily Briggs 3-0-6; Jacquie Grabowski 2-2-6; Alan Martin 1-0-2; Maggie Treacy 5-2-13; Gabby Rose 2-1-5; Totals: 17-5-40.
Northwestern (31): Kelsi Hodgkin 1-0-2; Amanda Soltis 0-0-0; Kathleen Wysocki 2-0-5; Liz Newkirk 3-4-11; Emma Beltrandi 5-1-11; Abbey Nelson 1-0-2; totals: 12-5-31.
3-point goals: C—Treacy. NW—Wysocki; Newkirk.
Records: Canton 9-5; Northwestern 10-5.