If Lawrence was going to beat Thornton on Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs would have to find a way to get through Thornton’s defense. The Golden Trojans allowed just 30 points per game in their Western A title run. In comparison, Lawrence also has a strong defense, but had allowed 37 points in one half in the Eastern A tournament.

The Lawrence girls took the court and found out that Thornton’s defense was just as solid as its reputation. Then the Bulldogs broke it down anyway.

Thornton’s defense featured Victoria Lux and Abby Strickland in the post, with Alex Hart, Katie McCrum and Ashley Howe on the wings and perimeter. It was clear they knew how to work together. Lawrence’s Nia Irving, who scored a game-high 27 points in Lawrence’s 50-43 victory, called Thornton’s defense “phenomenal.”

“They do a really good job man-to-man pressure,” Irving said. “They deny the pass into the wing. I think it’s really about committing to one side, making good cuts. And then they guard the post really well — Victoria’s a great defender, Abby Strickland’s a great defender. She’s very strong. They just play great defense as a team.”

The defense was so good that Lawrence finished the game with only 29 field goal attempts. To score 50 points on that number of shots, you have to be efficient, and the Bulldogs were. They shot 52 percent from the floor as a team, and Irving was eight of 10 on field goals and 11 of 12 from the line.

“We knew coming in we just had to do what we were successful doing all year,” Lawrence senior Paige Belanger said, “and just to work really hard, meet all of our passes. It just worked out for us. We were ready.”

With Irving taking only about a third of Lawrence’s shots, her teammates had to be ready, and they were. Point guard Dominique Lewis was left open long enough to take three 3-pointers, and she made two of them. Belanger took four shots, and made three. Jordyn Towers hit only one shot, but it made Thornton think.

“We had to adjust a little bit on what they typically do because of the offense that they run, with overloading one side and isolating Irving in the post,” Thornton coach Eric Marston said. “We couldn’t play our typical denial defense like we normally would. We knew that going in, so we had to sag off some, and Towers hit a huge shot there when we were kind of sagging off her a little bit.”

In ultimately succeeding against Thornton’s stellar defense, the Bulldogs not only had confidence that they could prevail, they also assessed the situation and took what was available.

“I’m not usually a person who drives,” Lewis said. “So I needed to drive. I needed to dish. I needed to take my shots that I had. They guarded me really well, so I didn’t have very many. But when I did, I needed to take them.”

Lewis’ drive came with under three minutes left and the score tied at 40. She did a burst around a group of players, lost her defender, and made the go-ahead layup.

“Paige was getting hard defense,” Lewis said. “We couldn’t get it to the wings. I knew I just had to score somehow, and I knew that I hadn’t drove all game. I just needed to try.”

Less than 30 seconds later, Lawrence was still ahead by two points and Irving had the ball near the foul line, guarded by Lux. For the first time all game from that far out, Irving put her head down and drove by her defender for a layup. The Bulldogs had 44 points, and that was all they would need.

“I was thinking that I hadn’t done a good job of driving past her in the earlier parts of the game,” Irving said. “I knew that I should try to beat her one-on-one, so I thought, ‘This is my opportunity.'”

The Bulldogs didn’t get as many scoring opportunities as they normally do in a game. But when they did, they took advantage. And they’ve got the Gold Ball to prove it.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo


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