|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Haley Coffey (15) goes in for a shot on Notre Dame's Sophie Hagen (11) in Tuesday's home game. Notre Dame won 46-38.|
But one knew those struggles would eventually hurt them if they continued for the Highlands Ladybirds basketball team. It did just that in a 9th Region loss to the Notre Dame Pandas in a 46-38 defeat Tuesday.
It marked the first game in the refurbished gym for Highlands (11-3 overall). The Ladybirds beat the Pandas (8-4), 56-46 in the LaRosa's Holiday Classic at Conner a week ago.
Highlands made 11-of-36 shots for 30.5 percent including 6-of-20 from three-point range for 30 percent. But Ladybirds Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey said the issue was not so much the percentage as it was shot selection.
The Ladybirds came out on fire from the outside as McKenzie Leigh, Brianna Adler and Macy Gabbard hit three-pointers to give Highlands a 9-0 advantage with 4:50 left in the first quarter prompting a quick time-out by Notre Dame Head Coach Wyatt Foust. The Pandas made the necessary adjustments and held on for the win after that point.
"We can't do that," Richey said of taking too many three-pointers. "That's not our game. We have to be able to work the ball around and get some easy shots. We have to learn to adjust to how they're playing defense and be able to execute the plays that were called and we have to understand that each possession matters. We called plays to start halftime and the third quarter and we have three girls who don't remember them."
Leigh finished with a team-high 14 points and five rebounds and Haley Coffey stepped forward late finishing with 10. But Notre Dame outscored Highlands, 16-10 in the paint.
Notre Dame guard Jenna Martin led the charge with 16 points making two three-pointers in the first quarter that gave the Pandas a 10-9 lead after the first quarter. She also had three steals with a few leading to transition scores.
"We know she's a great player," Richey said of Martin. "We told our girls she's probably the best player in our region. Offensively and defensively, she's sound. She busted her tail all night long. We're only down four and we have two straight possessions where we turn it over right to her and they go up by eight. Those things like that can't happen. We have to do a better job."
The Pandas also saw Sophie Hagen score 13. They made 15-of-35 shots for 42.8 percent including 6-of-12 from outside for 50 percent.
"The last time we played them, we kind of got out of what we do," Foust said. "We came out and thought we could pressure their young guards and create some turnovers. That's not who we are. We're a possession basketball team. We said win or lose, let's make them make shots. Let's not let them get to the free-throw line. The girls did an excellent job of that."
Both teams shot nearly even at the free-throw line. Notre Dame made 10-of-13 for 77 percent and Highlands made 10-of-14 for 71 percent.
But the Pandas won the rebounding battle 24-17. Lexi Miles led Notre Dame with four.
Notre Dame led 16-15 at halftime and used a 7-0 run to go up 23-15 early in the third quarter. Leigh made a triple to trim the margin to 28-22 entering the fourth quarter.
Highlands did get the lead down to 31-28 after two Leigh free throws. But Martin had a crucial steal and score with 3:45 left in the game to put Notre Dame back up 36-28.
"They were great individual plays, but the players behind her had her back," Foust said of Martin. "It was about everybody. She does her thing night-in and night-out. But everyone was fantastic."
Highlands trimmed it down to five after an Adler three-pointer. But the Pandas made 6-of-8 down the stretch to pull away.
The Ladybirds take on Walton-Verona (10-3) on Thursday in Fort Thomas. Game time is 7:30 p.m.