STAMFORD — One of the principles of the second annual Martin Luther King (MLK) Basketball Classic, sponsored by the Stamford branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is to highlight opportunity.
The Stamford girls basketball team embraced that philosophy Saturday as the Black Knights defeated intracity rival Westhill, 49-29 at the Vikings’ J. Walter Kennedy Athletic complex.
Stamford used runs of 9-0 in the second quarter and 10-0 to close out the third period to take control and earn its fourth victory in its last five contests.
Stamford, part of a four-team scrum at 8-2 chasing the No. 2 seed for the FCIAC playoffs and currently ranked No. 4 at 12-4 overall in Class LL, has six FCIAC contests remaining in the regular season.
“Our last few wins have been real team wins. Our group is making strides,” said Stamford’s veteran coach Diane Burns. “We are getting more contributions from more people every time out. I would like to see more patience from us on offense. Perhaps taking a bit more of what the opposition defense is giving us.”
For the most part, Stamford has been scoring in the 40s and low 50s this season. The Black Knights’ defensive pressure has kept opponents in the 30s and low 40s.
The biggest contributor Saturday for Stamford was guard Jessica Nelson, one of four seniors on a roster filled with sophomores.
Nelson scored eight of her game-high 18 points in the third quarter when SHS built a 42-24 edge. She also had six steals to help foil a Westhill squad that works so hard but has trouble scoring consistently.
“Senior leadership is everything. The job is to show the underclassmen how things work both on and off the basketball court,” Nelson said. “That’s how you build a successful season.”
Another important factor for Stamford Saturday was senior forward Widline Thomas, who had seven points and seven rebounds in a productive performance.
“Widline plays so hard,” Stamford coach Burns said. “She scored and was critical on the backboards. She had a complete game.”
“Widline is amazing. She doesn’t get enough credit for her talents,” Nelson said. “She is a real spark plug for us.”
Stamford was able to secure the triumph even though senior guard Megan Landsiedel (nine points) sat out the final six minutes due to an unspecified injury.
For Westhill (4-9, 2-8 FCIAC), Peyton Hackett had eight points while Audra Hansen added seven.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Stamford’s Jessica Nelson: The senior guard was critical at both ends of the floor. She finished with a game-high 18 points including a pair of 3-pointers as well as 6 for 6 on free throws. She collected six steals on defense.
“It was great to keep the MLK Classic Trophy and move closer to capturing the Stamford city title (must beat Trinity Catholic on Feb. 17),” Nelson said. “We know we can play better. We know we can continue to improve if we take care of the little things for all 32 minutes. When we get there, that will be the ultimate satisfaction.”