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Girls basketball: Off its game, Steinbrenner still prevails

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Wed. December 19, 2012 | Joel Anderson

LUTZ — Steinbrenner senior Bailey Hooker finished with nine points, nearly half her season average. Her protege in the pivot, sophomore Rachel Briere, missed much of the game because of early foul trouble.

And in another sign of their subpar performance Wednesday, the Warriors had more turnovers (18) than field goals (15) and rebounds (17).
Yet they still had enough to knock Sickles from the ranks of the undefeated.

Olivia Unger scored 10 to pick up the slack for Hooker and Briere and sister point guards Taylor and Justice Thigpen spearheaded a Steinbrenner defense that forced nearly 30 turnovers in a 49-44 victory.

“It’s never bad when you win,” Steinbrenner coach JR Allen said. “But right now we’re not playing very well.”

The Warriors (13-1) played well enough to win their second straight game after an unexpectedly close loss at undefeated and highly touted Freedom last Thursday.

A week later in its own gym, Steinbrenner led nearly from start to finish but had to withstand a gritty performance from another unbeaten foe.

Briere scored the first two baskets but was sent to the bench with 4:49 left in the first quarter after Gryphons guard Cassidy O’Brien drew fouls on her on consecutive possessions.

But Sickles (12-1) couldn’t take advantage even with Briere on the bench and Hooker was limited to third-lowest scoring game of the season.

Gryphons guard Sarah Hartman’s driving layup with 2:29 late in the third quarter tied the game at 37. Steinbrenner center Jessica Weatherman scored on the next possession, giving the Warriors a lead they would never again relinquish.

Seven times in the final nine minutes Sickles had an opportunity to tie or take the lead. Each time the Gryphons came up empty.
Trailing 47-44 with fewer than 30 seconds remaining, Sickles squandered its final opportunity by throwing the ball out of bounds. It was the Gryphons’ 29th — and final — turnover of the night.

“This was a good test for us,” Sickles coach Mark Key said. “I don’t think it was one of our better games.”

Without Briere patrolling the lane and Hooker in an offensive funk for most of the night, the Warriors turned up their defensive pressure on the perimeter.

The Thigpen sisters harassed Sickles’ point guards into a number of ballhandling errors, turning several of their turnovers into fastbreak points.

“Even if our offense is having trouble we can still count on our defense,” Justice Thigpen said.

“We found easier ways to score,” Hooker said.

O’Brien led Sickles with 15 points.

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