Originally Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013, 12:15 am
Last Updated: Feb. 13, 2013, 12:36 am
UT puts clamps down, upsets Rocky
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By Dan Tomlin, email@example.com
PEORIA -- The United Township girls' basketball team didn't consider themselves underdogs.
Despite losing to Rock Island twice this year -- the second time by 17 points -- the Panthers looked at the postseason as a chance for redemption.
Redemption was theirs, as UT ended Rock Island's record-setting season with a 63-52 wire-to-wire win in a Class 4A Peoria Richwoods Regional semifinal and earning a spot opposite the hosts in Friday's title tilt.
For the Rocks, it was more regional disappointment. This is the third straight season the Rocks have lost their postseason opener, the first two times they were the top seed.
The Panther defense has been good all season, but their first-half display on Tuesday was their shining moment. The Panthers (19-12) held the high-flying Rocks to just two field goals in 33 attempts, while building a 27-11 halftime lead.
Rocky got it as close as seven points early in the fourth quarter, but every time the Rocks threw a punch, UT countered. The Panthers responded by opening the lead back to 13 and never looked back. UT also held Rocky to just one 3-pointer in 22 attempts.
"In a one-and-done situation, who starts the best is huge," UT coach Justin Shiltz said of his Panthers who led 17-4 at the end of the first quarter. "We started with a good rhythm, and it helped that they missed a bunch of shots early. That plays on your mind a little bit and we were able to take advantage."
Katie Daggett scored a game-high 20 points and was just a rebound away from a double-double with a game-high nine rebounds. For the senior center, it was hard to keep her eyes off the scoreboard anytime Rocky would make a run.
"You try not to look up and to just keep playing and that's what we did," Daggett said. "We didn't get nervous, we just tried to play the game."
On the other hand, Rocky (25-4) couldn't climb all the way back. Senior guard Shavonne Brewer was held to 6-of-19 shooting and scored a team-high 14 points, while the Rocks as a team fired away at just over 26-percent on the night.
"It was really physical around the basket and we started to hurry our shots," said Rocky coach Thad Hoover. "We knew it was going to be physical and then it depends if you get lucky with how the game's called and we didn't.
"Then when we started to get calls, we didn't make our free throws."
The Rocks shot just 11-for-24 from the foul line and finished with 25 wins on the season, tying the school record for wins set in the 1998-99 season.
There was one setback for the Panthers in the win, as senior guard Jen VanWatermeulen went down in the second quarter with an apparent knee injury. She had to be carried off the court, and it looked like her night was done. She returned in the third quarter, though, only to roll into a ball on the ground seconds later when she tried to move laterally.
"Jen going down was a big blow for us," Shiltz said. "But our bench really stepped up and that was huge for us."
Jen's twin sister Jamie didn't need to be a scorer for UT on this given night, but she did all the small things.
"For me, I just felt like we had to beat them, no matter what," Jamie VanWatermeulen said. "We had this chance, a third chance, to play them and we wanted an upset."
The Panthers turned the tables on the Western Big 6 Conference darlings, as UT sophomore Tayler Dobrinske scored 14 points.
"In the fourth quarter, we knew we had to just go hard to the hole, get to the free throw line and make the shots," said Dobrinske who was 5-for-6 from the foul line in the fourth. "I just had to step up to that level."
While it may be an emotional win to upset a conference rival, it's not the end of the road. If UT thought Rocky was tough, playing Richwoods in its own gym for a regional championship is a whole other level.
"We need to get back in the gym and get ready for Friday," Shiltz said.