MARLIN – You’ve got to be pretty shifty to escape a shadow. Marlin’s Mystique Womack eluded not just one, but sometimes two shadows on Friday night.
Despite a constant wave of defensive attention, Womack still managed to get loose for a game-leading 17 points to spur Marlin over West, 44-30, in a duel of the top two girls basketball teams in District 19-3A.
Womack, the reigning Super Centex Player of the Year, came into the night with a well-earned reputation as one of the top scorers and all-around players in the state, averaging 24.6 points a night. West, of course, was certainly familiar with her, and head coach Kevin Zuehlke enacted a defensive game plan that would keep Womack surrounded all night long.
At times the Lady Trojans used a variation of a triangle-and-two defense, with a pair of defenders flanking Womack all the way out to the half-court stripe in an effort to keep the ball out of her hands. That gave Marlin a “power play” advantage, with four offensive players to go against West’s remaining three defenders. Yet the Lady Bulldogs, playing with a lead, often sagely held the ball and patiently forced West to either bide its time or come out on the ballhandler.
“We rolled out a little bit different game plan, tried everything that we possibly could to slow them down, especially slow No. 10 (Womack) down,” Zuehlke said. “She’s special, and we knew we had to stop her.”
Of course, it’s nothing Womack hasn’t seen in other games. Marlin second-year coach Lawrence Gullette said that he has tried to prepare his team for every possible scenario.
“That’s something we work on, too,” Gullette said. “There are things I might do in practice to kind of mimic situations. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘Hey, Mystique is injured.’ And the girls are like, ‘Huh?’ I’m not for real, but let’s work on some things like that. Let’s work on a 4-on-3 offense and see what we can do.”
With the victory, Marlin (23-8 overall, 11-0 in district) maintains sole possession of first place in 19-3A, with three games left on the district docket. West (18-11, 9-2) drops into a tie for second with Whitney, a team the Lady Trojans will face in the regular-season finale on Feb. 6.
At the very least, West made Marlin work for its win, which was Zuehlke’s hope.
“The main thing we wanted – we wanted Marlin to have to play a basketball game today, and I feel like we accomplished that,” Zuehlke said. “We just didn’t quite score the points we needed to pull it out.”
It was a single-digit game most of the way, though Womack pushed the Lady Bulldogs to a 33-22 edge with just over three minutes left in the third quarter after she stripped a West ballhandler and shot ahead for a breakaway layup.
West, however, closed the quarter on a 7-0 run, helped along by a pair of open runners from Macey Kucera and Caroline Roessler when the Marlin defense parted in the paint. That surge cut Marlin’s lead to 33-29 entering the final period.
However, Marlin amplified its defensive pressure in the fourth quarter, and West struggled to come up for air. The Lady Bulldogs limited the Lady Trojans to no field goals and only one point on a single free throw in the fourth.
“We definitely pride ourselves on defense,” Gullette said. “This year it’s – I don’t want to say it’s easier – but we can play multiple defenses now. When we go man-to-man, we have the athletes and the starting five that can definitely go man-to-man against anybody, I feel. When we bring bigger girls in, we can play any other defense. So when I tell them, ‘Hey, we’ve got to lock down,’ that’s something they definitely take pride in.”
Marlin slammed the door on the passing lanes so well that West once needed four consecutive attempts to inbound the ball late in the game, as the Lady Bulldogs swooped in to poke the ball away before it connected with its receiver.
“We had two starters that went out with injuries, and by that fourth quarter we just started running out of gas,” Zuehlke said. “I had girls that had to stay in there longer than what they’re used to. (Marlin) did a really good job defensively making it difficult for us to score. We had to expend so much energy trying to score.”
Tamara Daniel fought through foul trouble to crash the offensive backboard with fervor, finishing with a team-high 10 points for West.
Freshman post Aniya Williams scored 11 points for Marlin, and sophomore Danielle Noble picked up eight.
Following the season sweep of the Lady Trojans, Marlin has the inside track on a repeat district title.
“It would be nice if we can repeat as district champs,” Gullette said. “I feel like we’ve got a good chance, if we take care of some things we know we can take care of.”
Despite the loss, West figures to be a tough out in the playoffs as well.
“If you can play good defense, keep yourself in games, you give yourself a shot,” West’s Zuehlke said. “If we can kind of catch our second wind offensively and start getting more of a rhythm going, we’re poised (to make a run).”