By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
HEBRON – Both teams played tough defense in the key early-season 9th Region girls basketball contest.
But the Conner Cougars (11-1) made more shots to hold off the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (7-2) by a 49-38 count Thursday. The game opened the State Farm Holiday Classic at Conner.
Conner hit 17-of-65 shots for 26 percent including six three-pointers, and all nine free throws. NewCath made just two three-pointers going 12-of-61 percent for just under 20 percent. The Thoroughbreds also made just 12-of-18 free throws for 67 percent.
“It was the same old story,” said George Stoll, NewCath head coach. “We couldn’t make a shot to save our lives. It’s been like that for a few games now. We’re just in a shooting slump. We’ll get out of it. The shots are right there. They’re not missing by much.”
The first and fourth quarters really hurt NewCath. The Thoroughbreds made just 1-of-15 shots for about seven percent and just three points in the first quarter. Then they made just 1-of-13 shots and just four points for eight percent in the fourth quarter.
NewCath junior standout Nikki Kiernan turned in another monster game almost making a triple-double. She scored 10 points, nabbed 21 rebounds and rejected nine Cougar shots.
But Conner sagged its defense in the paint to double and triple-team her because NewCath could not hit outside shots. Alexus Mayes followed Kiernan with nine points, including one three-pointer. Michaela Ware had the other three-pointer for the Throughbreds.
Defensively, NewCath knew it had to contain Conner seniors Jordan Scott and Emily Pluto. Scott finished with 16 and Pluto had 10. Scott scored nine in the first half and added 21 rebounds for a double-double.
Scott had a key offensive putback and ensuing free throw down the stretch. But Hunter Hendricks made two crucial three-pointers from the left corner in the fourth quarter on her way to nine points for Conner.
“We missed our responsibilities there,” Stoll said. “We had two different girls on two set plays not switch out. That was our fault. That’s six points that shouldn’t have happened if we’re doing our job.”
Turnovers also did not help the Thoroughbred cause. NewCath made 20 to 11 for Conner. The Cougars recorded 11 steals led by Brooke Maines with four to five for NewCath. Ware led the Thoroughbreds with three.
NewCath won the rebounding battle, 53-47. After Kiernan, Stephanie Lewis grabbed 10 for the Thoroughbreds with Pluto, Hendricks and Maines nabbing six each for the Cougars.
Despite the score, NewCath found itself down just 40-38 with 1:43 left when Lewis made two free throws. But Scott put in an offensive rebound and ensuing free throw 10 seconds later and Conner made all six free throws after that to pull away.
NewCath trailed 14-3 after the first quarter as Conner used a 12-0 run to go up 14-1 at one point. But the Thoroughbreds rallied with a 9-0 run in the second to trail just 24-20 at halftime.
NewCath took its first lead with 1:55 left in the third when Mayes hit two free throws. The Thoroughbreds led 34-32 entering the fourth quarter.
NewCath faces Lewis County (5-4) at Noon and Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park (10-2) at 7 p.m. tonight to finish pool play in the classic.