The most obvious first impression about the fourth-ranked Mount Airy girls basketball team is that the Lady Bears are explosive, capable of scoring points in bunches against anyone who takes the court against them.
But what the big offensive numbers don’t show is just how strong defensively the team is. Bishop McGuinness found that out the hard way when it came calling for a Northwest 1A Conference battle on Thursday night.
First-year Lady Bears head coach Angela Mayfield would have been more than pleased if her team had just defeated the Villains by 19 points, seeing as how Bishop’s only conference loss coming in had been by one point at the hands of preseason favorite Atkins. Her team had other ideas, however — Mount Airy held Bishop to that many in a 53-19 rout.
“We know (Bishop) will always be a tough opponent,” Mayfield said. “Their girls play hard. But we came out in the first quarter and set a tone defensively. The best games we’ve played are the ones where we played well defensively, and we just came out really tough, especially early on.”
Similar to North Surry, the team that handed the Lady Bears (11-1, 4-0 NW1A) their only loss last week, Bishop McGuinness is strong at breaking a press, and then likes to set up in a half-court offense and wait for a breakdown. However, Mount Airy wasn’t having any of it. The Villains didn’t even score until Emily Elliott hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the first quarter.
In the meantime, the Lady Bears put on one of their trademark displays of outside shooting, only this time much of it came from less-used sources. Arry Ward opened the game with a trey out of the corner 45 seconds in. Bishop was also defending well, and the next score came with five minutes left, with Jo Snow shook free on the right wing and hit one. That was expected, but when Madeline Mayfield dialed long distance from the top of the key at 3:38, Bishop coach Brian Robinson was forced to expend a time-out. The lead eventually reached 15-0 before Elliott put the Villains on the board.
The second quarter started with more ‘bombs away,’ but unfortunately for the visitors, Mount Airy had more weapons. Asherah Smith was the main one in the early going, knocking down two threes sandwiched around Snow’s second and a long shot from Bishop’s Elizabeth Knox. When Smith made her second three with six minutes left in the first half, Robinson was calling time again with his team trailing 24-6. The lead was up to 34-9 at the break.
“We wanted to force them to play at our tempo, and we were able to do that tonight. “When we get out and run, that makes us go, and it makes the other team have to get into its bench.”
The Lady Bears kept up the defensive pressure throughout the night, sometimes confounding the Villains through possessions as long as 45 seconds before forcing Bishop to take shots it didn’t want, most of which clanged off the rim and into the hands of a Lady Bear. Even in the final quarter, when Coach Mayfield played her reserves throughout, Bishop continued to struggle on offense, scoring just four points in the entire eight-minute period.
The Lady Bears will take the next week off for exams before returning to action at home on Jan. 13 against Atkins (11-2, 3-0 NW1A) in a battle for first place in the conference.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.