Playing for the first time without her dad on the bench, Rock Island girls basketball standout Carlee Hoover said it felt weird.
That weirdness washed away pretty early and Hoover led the Rocks to a huge 61-44 Western Big 6 Conference win over United Township in the Panther Den to set up a conference championship game next Thursday.
Rocky coach Thad Hoover stayed home, sick with the flu, but young Carlee had herself a night, scoring a game-high 14 points with eight of them coming in the fourth quarter as the Rocks pulled away after a 23-all halftime tie.
The win moves Rock Island to 7-0 in the WB6 with both United Township and Galesburg trailing by two games with three to play. The Rocks host Galesburg next weekend and can win their second straight Big 6 title with a win. It would also be the first time RIHS has won back-to-back Big 6 crowns after last season's share.
Thursday night, Rocky (21-2, 7-0 WB6) forced the Panthers (13-9, 5-2) into 37 turnovers and had a 10-rebound advantage although no Rock had more than five rebounds.
While the final score looks like a blowout, after the first 16 minutes it appeared the game would come down to the wire. Rock Island looked disinterested, and UT was fighting for its conference life.
As time expired in the half, Rock Island's Cairece Allen tipped in a bucket to tie it, and that turned the tide. The Rocks came out of the locker room and went on an 11-2 run and never looked back.
"Our intensity picked up," Rocky coach Henry Hall said. "We were all in new roles (without coach Hoover), and we weren't playing hard. That putback got us going."
Rocky's star, Shavonne Brewer, shot just 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-4 from behind the arc but had a crucial game-high seven steals.
Mercedes Jackson added 13 points for the Rocks. She was even credited for a missed first-quarter free throw thanks to an error at the scorer's table.
United Township looked like a different team out of the locker room. After shooting 60-percent from the floor, the Panthers shot just 31-percent in the final two quarters. The worst part of the game for UT was 36 turnovers.
"That's really ridiculous," UT coach Justin Shiltz said of the turnovers. "We need to play with more toughness. It was frustrating and disappointing to watch us on defense at times tonight."
Katie Daggett scored 10 for the Panthers, but took just one shot, and made it, in the second half. The Rocky defense also kept Jen and Jamie VanWatermeulen in check, as they scored a combined eight points and the Panther starters had just 10 second-half points.
Rocky didn't need buckets in the fourth, going 12-for-15 from the free-throw line.
Hoover was fouled twice while shooting 3s and made all six free throws.
"I was sad dad wasn't there, but we couldn't treat it any differently," Hoover said. "They slowed us down big time, so it was up to us to pick up the pace."
Ironically, the only other time Hall filled in as head coach was for Scott Harding and the Panthers when they played Rocky. He lost that one.
"I can tell you I'm content with being the sub guy," Hall joked. "Although, I'm more tired when I do the stats on subbing than I was tonight."
Today is Sunday, Dec. 8, the 342nd day of 2013. There are 23 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: For the whole of last week we have been favored with the most delightful Indian summer weather, and mercury ranging from 40 to 65 above zero. The river is entirely clear of ice and looks as mild and soft as summer. 1888 -- 125 years ago: Albert Johnson was appointed a deputy in the circuit clerk's office. 1913 -- 100 years ago: 800 or more tons of earth in six landslides covered 38th Street for a distance of 200 feet near 7th Avenue and destroyed much property. 1938 -- 75 years ago: One of the 350-foot towers, which with a new transmitter will increase the power of WHBF to 1,000 watts day and night, has been completed on a 20-acre tract at 23rd Avenue and 51st Street, Moline. 1963 -- 50 years ago: In cooperation with The Associated Press, The Argus presents to its readers a complete, beginning-to-end account of one of the most tragic and dreadful chapters in American history, the assassination of President Kennedy, available in book form, and now in preparation. The book is entitled "The Torch is Passed." 1988 -- 25 years ago: Deere & Co. stockholders received good news of a boost in their quarterly dividends from 20 to 30 cents per share of common stock. The dividend, made to stockholders of record on Dec. 30, will be payable on Feb. 1, 1989.