Cairece Allen would not exactly endorse the start, but the Rock Island senior girls' basketball player embraced the conclusion.|
"It was what we were expecting," Allen said.
So was the result.
Stuck in neutral for two and a half quarters against Alleman on Thursday night, the Rocks kept their perfection in the Western Big 6 Conference with a near-perfect finish. Rocky played its best down the stretch, allowing it to earn a 68-56 win over the Pioneers at Don Morris Gym.
"We brought the intensity in the second half," Allen said. "We wanted to make sure we were keeping our tempo."
The closing act featured the Rocks (19-2, 6-0 Big 6) hitting perimeter shots and forcing Alleman into ill-advised shots. Basically, it was how Rocky wants to play for four quarters.
"That was good," Rocky coach Thad Hoover said. "We were a little flat and (Alleman) played extremely well. They executed what they do better than we did for two and a half quarters, but we hung in there."
Trailing 45-40 midway through the third, Rocky scored the final eight points of the quarter and the first two in the fourth to build a five-point. Alleman (10-9, 0-6) then countered with a 5-0 spurt that evened the game, but the Rocks soon found their dagger.
Carlee Hoover buried a 3-pointer from the left corner with 5:44 left in regulation, putting Rocky ahead 55-52. After forcing an Alleman miss, the Rocks regained the five-point lead when Shavonne Brewer converted a basket.
"It was a little deflating," Alleman senior forward Maddie McGuire said of those two Rocky shots, "but we knew we could come back."
Before Rocky took the 57-52 lead, Alleman, which had McGuire (11 points), Erin Morrisey (10) and Anne Bohnert (10) reach double digits, overcame every deficit it encountered. This one, though, simply was too much.
The Rocks ended the game on a 16-4 run.
"It's simple -- they made their shots. They executed and we didn't," Alleman coach Jay Hatch said. "They're not 19-2 because they just show up. They're a good team."
Playing point guard for parts of the fourth, Allen ensured the Rocks were in good hands. They scored on all but four fourth-quarter possessions and did not commit a turnover. Allen, Brewer, Shamia Clark and Mercedes Jackson combined to go 12-of-12 from the foul line.
Rocky'sbench scored 31 points.
"Starting means nothing," said Thad Hoover, who received a game-high 15 points from Carlee Hoover and 12 more from Brewer. "Who we start isn't necessarily our best five players. If we played a different way, we'd probably have a different starting lineup."
Whatever lineup the Rocks had on the floor in the fourth quarter was the perfect combination.
"Everybody on our team can play with anybody," Allen said. "We all have chemistry. We've been playing together awhile, so when we go on the court, it's there."
All that added to Rocky now standing two wins from clinching at least a share of its second consecutive Big 6 title.
"Every conference game is huge," Thad Hoover said. "We're just not physically dominant enough where we're going to walk into a gym and win. We have to play hard, play well and play together."
Down the stretch, that's what Rocky did.