- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
An ugly start offensively for the Calvert Cavaliers in Wednesday’s girls basketball contest, missing nine of their first 10 floor attempts, did not keep them from playing their beautiful, signature defense.
It was a hustling defensive play from versatile senior guard Alexis Smith late in the first quarter that finally got Calvert going offensively, as she contested a seemingly open basket on a Westlake fast break.
Smith quickly controlled the missed layup, then pushed the ball down court and found senior teammate Jasmine Weems for a fast-break bucket at the other end. That triggered Calvert to six straight points in the final 1 1/2 minutes of the opening quarter after scoring just three until that juncture.
Calvert never looked back in a game it led wire to wire, flexing its defensive muscle throughout in a 50-38 victory over the host Wolverines for its ninth straight win.
Only Westlake has managed at least 30 points against the reigning two-time Class 2A state champion during the win streak. At home, Calvert (13-1, 5-0 SMAC) also downed Westlake, 68-50, on Jan. 2 in a nonconference contest to increase its hot stretch to three straight wins at the time.
Primed to continue its state dominance, Calvert is yielding just a smidge over 21 points a game during the win streak — minus the two Westlake affairs — with its active, shut-down zone defense, mostly utilized in the halfcourt.
“We’ve had two different coaching styles, so the defense is a little bit different. It is a good defense,” Smith said, referring to her first-year head coach Tim Contee, a 2003 Calvert graduate, who’s taken over for longtime, accomplished frontman Frank Moore. Moore is now the head coach with the Northern boys basketball team. “We learn defenses that teams haven’t seen us play all the years that I’ve been in high school, so it’s going to throw them off, which is a good thing. [Our opponents] aren’t used to it.”
The Drexel-bound talent added, “With Mr. Moore, his coaching style was like we had [constant] steals [in full-court, pressing situations], like back to back to back. With Contee, it’s more like you can’t gamble so much [and play more in the half court] with the two-two-one [zone defense].”
Weems boasted a game-high 16 points while Smith scored 13 and grabbed seven rebounds, as she was extremely active on both ends of the court.
After being saddled with her second foul just three minutes into the game and thus sitting for most of the first quarter, Calvert junior center Daijah Thomas was her typical overpowering self in the second half.
Blanked in the first half from scoring, the 6-foot-2 Thomas finished with 12 points, a team-high eight rebounds and two blocks.
All three Calvert standouts responded, as championship-caliber teams always do, whenever threatened in the second half.
In the third when Westlake (10-5, 4-1) narrowed its 25-11 halftime deficit to 26-19 a few minutes into the quarter, Smith turned a Calvert steal into an easy fast-break basket.
That was followed by a Weems three-pointer, another Smith transition score where she stole the ball and went from one end of the court to the other and then four straight points from Thomas to cushion Calvert’s lead to 40-22 with a minute left in the third.
Westlake refused to fold, again fighting back to get within 41-31 with 5 minutes 9 seconds left in the game. The deeper Wolverines appeared to have Calvert and its thin roster of just seven players in fatigue mode.
Following a Calvert timeout, back came Thomas with one of her game-high five offensive rebounds for a key putback score. That fueled the Cavaliers on a backbreaking 9-2 spurt that included a Weems transition bucket, a Smith three-pointer and two Thomas free throws for an insurmountable 50-33 advantage with 2:20 remaining.
Yet, for all the clutch offense from Calvert, it was its defense that made the scoring runs possible.
Calvert forced Westlake into 34 turnovers. The Cavaliers had just 18. And Westlake was limited to just 29 percent shooting (15 of 52) from the field, including 5 of 24 (21 percent) in the first half.
Westlake finished as a 3A state semifinalist last year and has aspirations of returning to the Maryland playoffs this postseason.
“Overall, we’re satisfied with the win,” Weems said. “Offense was a little slow, but it came. So we’re OK. [Defensively] we all have to be on the same page. I knew our defense was going to come [when Westlake made its runs].”
“For seven players, we have a lot of energy,” Smith added. “We condition ourselves in practice so in the game it’s easy. We have stamina and everything. All three of our basketball IQs are high so when [Thomas, Weems and myself] get in those situations [when we’re tested], we know what to do.”
Kouanyo Saragba led Westlake with 10 points. She also pulled down seven rebounds.
Damira Banks tallied all nine of her points in the second half for Westlake.
Chynna Hill finished with a game-high 10 rebounds, pacing Westlake to a 44-29 advantage over Calvert on the glass. But boasting the rebounding edge was not enough.
“Calvert, those girls have a lot of experience and have been in a lot of big-game situations,” Westlake head coach Ardell Jackson said. “Those kids have been together since middle school so they’re going to be hard to beat. They’re a good defensive team but we had a lot of opportunities to score and missed some shots. We failed to capitalize.”
Westlake’s game plan after a dreadful first half was to pick up the pace in the second half with their high-pressure defense, and the adjustment had its moments of flourishing.
“We could start to see the fatigue a little bit [on Calvert],” the Westlake coach continued. “But when you’ve got Alexis [Smith], she knows how to get a bucket. You’re not playing a typical team. They’re a seasoned team.”
Contee added of his Calvert club, “[Westlake] is a terrific team, scrappy and they played us hard. The things I wanted to keep emphasizing to our girls is adversity is going to hit in games but just to stay with it and keep persevering.
“That’s what makes us a team — cohesiveness. Each player stepping up at the perfect time.”