Originally Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2012, 10:38 pm
Last Updated: Dec. 27, 2012, 11:30 pm

First-half run propels UT girls past Stillman Valley

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By Mike Pasley, sports@qconline.com

DIXON — All United Township girls basketball coach Justin Shiltz wanted was for his team to keep playing games. Shiltz had to wait 14 days, but finally got his wish Thursday night. It took the Lady Panthers about eight minutes, but they again regained the groove they had been playing with heading into that two-week break.

And once UT again started playing — sparked by a key run midway in the first half — it was enough to roll past Stillman Valley 53-30 in the first round of the Dixon Girls Holiday Tournament. UT, now 8-6, will face Oregon (11-3), a 63-49 winner over Lanark Eastland, in a championship quarterfinal at 7:30 tonight.

"We practiced a lot, but it's hard to keep (the players) focused for that long," said Shiltz, whose team last played on Dec. 13 against Galesburg. "I thought at times tonight we looked rusty …. It was a concern for me, coming off that break, you don't want to stop. But we got our full-court defense going, and that got us awake."

The Panthers' defensive effort, which forced Stillman Valley (3-10) into 29 turnovers, triggered a 19-4 run as a relatively close game through the first quarter was quickly settled. The Lady Cardinals, which dressed just eight players, tried to employ a lot of different looks out of its 2-3 zone defense but to no avail.

That's because UT point guard Jen VanWatermeulen began attacking the Stillman Valley defense with dribble-penetration and feeding the post. Opening the second quarter with two high-low passes to her teammates for easy baskets, the senior changed the momentum of the game almost single-handedly. Fittingly, VanWatermuelen ended the major scoring run with another assist, as Sadie Roberts scored helping put UT into a 22-9 lead with 4 minutes, 29 seconds left in the first half.

In all, VanWatermeulen finished with 11 points and five assists. Jada Harris led the Panthers with 12 points.

"She's our point for a reason," said Shiltz of VanWatermeulen. "Stillman tried to give us different looks,but she did a really good job of reading it. She's experienced and very smart."

Like its season, in which UT dropped its first three games, the Panthers did start slowly. The Lady Panthers trailed 5-3 five minutes into the game, and made just 3 of 9 field goal attempts in the opening quarter. Of those six misses, five were from six feet in. Yet, like its season, in which it has won eight of its last nine games, UT responded, holding Stillman Valley to just three field goals the remainder of the half.

Additionally, the UT defense created havoc. Again it was VanWatermeulen spearheading the effort, tallying seven steals, six of those in the first half.

"I just don't think we could handle their man-to-man pressure," Stillman Valley coach Heather Alderks said. "They were just more athletic."

And for the effort, UT only has to wait 24 hours before getting another game, which excites their coach.

"We finally kicked it in during the second and third quarters," Shiltz said. "We've been playing that way lately. But Oregon's going to give us a good test."