Originally Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2013, 10:46 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 24, 2013, 11:34 pm

UT defense smothers Pioneers

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By Marc Nesseler, nesseler@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood
Alleman's Isabelle Anderson defends UTHS's Jen VanWatermeulen in fourth-quarter action Thursday evening in the Panther Den. UT won the game 39-20.

In a girls' basketball season that has been defensively spectacular, the United Township Panthers may have worked themselves into school and Western Big 6 Conference record books on Thursday night.

If only such records were kept for defensive wizardry.

In their stingiest defensive effort of the season, the Panthers held the Alleman Pioneers to just three converted field goals and 9.7 percent field-goal shooting in a 39-20 victory at the UT girls' gym.

UT sophomore assistant coach Carie Walker, who has longtime ties to the UT program, said she couldn't remember such a low field-goal number allowed.

"They work hard," Alleman coach Jay Hatch said in rationalizing UT's defensive showing. "Tonight they definitely worked harder than us and deserved the win and got it."

In some stretches, that defense was truly as amazing as the numbers illustrated.

In one fourth-quarter, 90-second stretch, UT center Katie Daggett had four blocks, and she finished with five. In the first quarter, as UT bolted to a 16-7 lead – Alleman's highest-scoring quarter – Jen VanWatermeulen had three of her game-high four steals.

"They've spent a lot of time working on defense," said UT coach Justin Shiltz. "And they are very coachable. They have bought into what we are trying to teach them."

As for Daggett, who also had team-highs of 12 points (shared with Jen VanWatermeulen) and eight rebounds as well as a pair of steals, Shiltz says the 5-foot-11 senior has become one of his best students of the game this season.

"No question she's the most improved player in the Big 6 this season. She wasn't on anyone's radar last year. Back when she was a freshman, she was pretty raw. Now she's absolutely the key to our winning, no question," said the UT coach, his Panthers now 16-11, 6-2 in the WB6.

"Jen and Jamie are the heart and soul of our team. They are not stat-sheet stuffers, but they make sure all of the girls are in the right position. They are leaders and wonderful girls to coach."

Those three definitely are part of something defensively special for the Panthers.

"Our magic number is five, the number of 3-pointers we want to hold a team to," Shiltz said. "When you play a zone, you can give up 3s."

With that in mind, UT not only gave up just three field goals to Alleman (13-13, 1-7 WB6) but allowed just five total in its previous game, a 23-17 loss on Tuesday to Class 4A's No. 9-ranked DeKalb in which Shiltz called it " defensive trench warfare."

"In the first half," said Hatch, "they got every loose ball, every rebound. That came from hard work."

The yield of 20 points topped by one UT's previous season's best, a 41-21 win over Geneseo in UT's ninth game. Outside of that loss to DeKalb, UT is 6-0 when holding teams to 29 or less.

In fact, UT's true magic number appears to be 50. When an opponent scores more than that, UT is 1-7; when a team scores less, it is 15-4.

"Defense is the major part of our game," said Daggett. "All we want to do is hold our opponent to as low a score as we can."

Those numbers are getting to the point of record-book low, if they are not there already.