NEW PORT RICHEY — Defensive battles often hypnotize fans.
Take Gulf-Nature Coast girls basketball on Tuesday night.
There were enough fans in the stands to make some noise, yet the atmosphere felt more like New Port Richey Public Library.
No, they were not entertained by struggling offenses.
Gulf's defensive effort, however, in a 41-28 victory certainly deserved applause. The Buccaneers (14-2) held the Sharks to match their season low and limited them to one field goal in the second half.
Gulf coach Mike Quarto said improving the defense was why he scheduled powers such as Boca Ciega and tournaments that allowed the Bucs to challenge Tampa Catholic and Spoto.
"Everybody knows when the calendar turns over in January it's all about your defense," Quarto said. "Defense wins championships."
Tied at 10 in the second quarter, Gulf went up 22-12 on a layup by Nicole Adams (game-high 17 points) with two minutes before halftime.
Nature Coast (12-5) cut the deficit to six in the third quarter on a free throw by Jen Marshall (team-high 10 points). But Adams hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Gulf back ahead by double digits before taking a 33-23 lead into the fourth quarter.
In the final eight minutes, Nature Coast was held to five points — all free throws — and was held scoreless for almost the final four minutes.
Kianna Mills and Leighlani Paselio chipped in for Gulf with six points each.
Quarto was quick to point to a shaky offensive effort and a need to improve scoring.
"Offensively, we have to figure out what we do well," Quarto said. "Then we have to get our kids to buy into it. That will be our goal. Next Friday, we play at Wesley Chapel."
Sharks coach Travis Lamle had many of the same comments for his girls after the game — happy with defense, not so happy with offense.
"Gulf's obviously one of the best teams in this area," Lamle said. "You have to play those good teams to get better. This will do good for us."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.