HOWELL — If his team happens to play at Howell again this season, Brighton girls basketball coach Paul Ash likes its chances.
“We know we can come over here and win next week,” he said after his team lost to Howell 38-36 in the KLAA girls tournament semifinals on Monday. “Seventeen. Six. Two. That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re getting better every time out.”
The numbers he was referring to were Howell margins of victory in the three games played this season.
The Highlanders, as one would expect, see things a bit differently. They were up 35-27 in the fourth quarter before a turnover gave the Bulldogs life.
“We’re up 35-28. we’re in control and we dribble (the ball) out of bounds,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said. “We ran the offense we wanted to run to get our best free-throw shooters to the line, and we miss free throws. It’s not so much what they did, but what we did to ourselves.”
Or couldn’t do for themselves. Howell senior Lexie Miller, for example, made just one shot in a first half that included several misses on layups.
“I don’t know if I could shoot any worse,” she said. “We came out with the win, but you have to think of how it could be if we made those shots. We still came out with the win. That’s what’s most important.”
Still, Miller had 11 points, including eight in the third quarter. Leah Weslock was held in check in the second half, with just four points, but she finished with 15 after scoring nine in the second quarter.
For Brighton, Sophie Dziekan had seven points in the first half and one in the second.
That stat was key to Olszewski’s assertion that it was defense that won the game.
It certainly was the case in the final seconds. Miller, with her team leading 38-36, uncharacteristically missed a pair of free throws. But the Howell defense shut off access to Dana Schemanske, leaving it up to Rebecca Daavattila to try a baseline 3-pointer to win it.
“She’s a solid 3-point shooter,” Ash said. “I don’t mind her having that shot in that situation.”
The shot bounced off the rim, and Weslock got the rebound with about five seconds left. She held onto the ball to run the clock out.
“We just had to work hard,” she said, “play the defense we know and make sure not to foul. We executed it well.”
The win earned Howell a spot in Thursday’s KLAA championship game with Wayne at Howell High School. The Zebras got there by downing Hartland 45-40.
“They’re a great team, and we’re always excited to play a great team,” Miller said. “It prepares us for districts.”
And, if Brighton gets past Hartland in the first round, the Bulldogs and Highlanders will meet for a fourth time next Wednesday.
“We still have a few bullets in the gun we haven’t shown yet,” Ash said. “We’ll see who has the better bullets next week, if we get a chance.”