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Panthers' zone stops Comets
Judas Heather Boeke, in yellow, and Albanys Sydney Bump go after a loose ball during Fridays game.
ALBANY - Juda girls basketball coach Curt Brown's teams focus on man-to-man defense. But Friday it was the 1-2-2 zone that stymied Albany and fueled a 41-36 win.

The Panthers, with 6-foot, 2-inch Ellen Kiser and 5-11 Heather Boeke down low, closed the driving lanes and made the Comets shoot from the outside.

"We tried really hard at the beginning of the year to focus on playing man," Brown said. "If we are going to play zone, we have to be able to play man. We knew if we could win, it would be on Albany's shooting. We knew they were going to drive and kick. We thought we would play the percentages."

A nearly 13-minute stretch without a field goal in the second half doomed Albany. The Comets shot just 21.2 percent (10-for-47) in the game and were 0-for-11 in the third quarter.

"All of a sudden, there was a cover on the basket for us," Albany coach Mike Brunhoefer said.

Juda (10-9, 4-6 Six Rivers East) scored eight consecutive points to start the third quarter, highlighted by senior Larissa Klemm's two 3-pointers that gave the Panthers a 24-18 lead. Klemm scored all 10 of her points in the second half to lead the Panthers.

"As soon as we started hitting some of our outside shots, we knew we could get it in," Klemm said. "Then we had the option of going inside or outside."

Kiser, who scored eight points and had 10 rebounds, scored on a turnaround jumper late in the third quarter that sparked a 12-2 run that gave the Panthers a 30-20 lead.

"We have been really working hard on the zone," Kiser said. "We all knew we had to keep talking to each other to make sure we had each other's back."

The Comets battled back, pressuring on defense and forcing 13 of the Panthers' 16 turnovers in the second half. Albany junior Courtney Pfeuti, who scored nine points, snapped the field-goal drought when she drilled a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left to cut the Panthers' lead to 35-27.

Junior Hayli Peach, who led the Comets with a game-high 12 points, drained a 3-pointer with 34.6 seconds left that sliced the deficit to 39-33. The Panthers made 6 of 7 free throws in the last 1:26 to seal it. Sophomore C.J. Dunwiddie hit 4 of 4 free throws in the final 34.6 seconds.

"They did a nice job of guarding Hayli," Brunhoefer said. "They were going to be aware of wherever she was on the floor. We kept adjusting, but it just wasn't meant to be tonight."

It looked different early on. The Comets led 9-0 on Pfeuti's 3-pointer and baskets down low by Sydney Bump and Hillary Best. Juda senior Brittany Riese gave the Panthers a lift, as she scored all eight of her points in the first half. Riese hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter that trimmed the Comets' lead to 9-5.

The Panthers outscored the Comets 13-9 in the second quarter and Riese's 3-pointer tied the score at 16 with 1:44 left in the period. On Juda's next possession, Rachel Bartels scored to give the Panthers an 18-16 lead. Best answered with a jumper to tie the score at 18 at halftime.

Brown said he opted to have seniors Riese and Bartels make an impact off the bench.

"I can't say enough about Brittany and Rachel," Brown said. "It's team first for them. We had to start hitting some outside shots. It was obviously going to be a long night for Ellen and Heather."

That set the stage for the second half that saw the Comets shoot 4-for-25. Best scored eight points and Bump added seven.

"They are so big," Brunhoefer said. "They didn't have a lot of luck until they put Bartels at the high post."

Klemm knows how important getting a season split with the Comets was, saying that a win would help in with seeding and rankings.