Sharonda Smith made three 3-pointers and scored a game-high 17 points, Azuria Barrino scored a career-high 11 points and Braylyn Milton added 15 and, more importantly, may have taken the first step toward break out of a shooting slump as the Independence girls basketball team destroyed lowly Porter Ridge 64-15 on Jan. 4.
The win was a needed one for the Patriots, who had lost two in a row and four of six before everything fell into place against the Pirates.
Before the win over Porter Ridge, Independence had competed in two holiday tournaments with varied success as they went 1-2 both times, often playing in blowouts either way.
At Country Day, the Patriots beat the host Buccaneers handedly but then were beaten soundly by Carmel Christian and Gaston Day to close out their break.
“There was good competition,” Independence coach Lauren Galvani said. “But there were trips where we took off and quarters where we completely took off. It was so different than what we’ve seen in practice every single day. That was frustrating… I would have liked to get another win or two, but it was a good experience and they learned a thing or two.”
But the Patriots got back to the basics against Porter Ridge and raced out to a 19-0 lead. They would extend that margin to 23-4 after the first quarter, 37-8 at the half and go on for the 49-point win.
And, by design, everyone had a hand in victory.
“Our focus for this game was team chemistry because we’re kind of still getting to know each other,” Galvani said. “Those two Christmas tournaments we went to it was obvious that we’re not used to playing with each other and we needed to communicate more. That was our focus today, just sharing the ball and making the extra pass. They did a better job of that today.”
Smith, the senior, shot the ball well with her three 3-pointers and game-high 17 points that outscored Porter Ridge by herself.
Barrino had a career-high 11 points to go with eight rebounds, and the Patriots dominated on the glass.
Ayanna Anderson scored four points, but grabbed 13 rebounds including five offensive boards. Six-foot-two sophomore Grace Breckenridge had her most complete game of the season with eight points and 11 rebounds. Laura Flynn didn’t score, but contributed eight rebounds. Julia Rohlfing added six points and three rebounds.
But the best news of all could be Milton, who has been mired in a shooting slump for much of the year.
As a freshman, the talented guard averaged 15 points and shot 38 percent from the field. This season, with added defensive focus, Milton is averaging 16 points, but on 31 percent shooting. In the previous 11 games, Milton had made 41-of146 shots (28.6 percent), but she was 5-of-13 and scored 15 in the win over the Pirates to go with six assists and three steals.
The Pirates know they’ll go mostly as far as Milton can take them, so finding her stroke can only help the goal of making the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
Galvani is in her fourth season with the Patriots and has done a wonderful job turning them from a program that hadn’t won in 61 straight games to a team that went 13-12 last year, the team’s first winning season since 2008-09.
But her work isn’t done.
The Patriots improved to 6-7 overall with the win over Porter Ridge and 2-1 in conference play, where they are currently in third and in playoff contention. The top four teams make it into the postseason.
But Independence has Hickory Ridge and East Meck once and Butler and Rocky River twice each, so there’s a lot of basketball left to play.
“With conference we’re just trying to compete for a top spot,” Galvani said. “We know that Butler is really loaded and Hickory Ridge is really good and we’ve already played them. We know the teams we should be beating. There are teams in there we put up a fight with last year.
“That’s our main goal is to compete with them and hopefully we’ll pull a few wins out of there and finish in the top of the conference. We’re trying to make playoffs. That’s been the goal since I’ve been here. They’re starting to play better, they’re starting to believe so it’s starting to come together for us.”