YPSILANTI — It was one game in December.
March is a long ways away.
But if a Howell girls basketball team that hasn’t lost a game to someone other than Hartland in the last two seasons needed validation, it got it on Friday, when the Highlanders overcame a slow start and beat Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 51-41.
It was Arbor Prep’s first regular-season loss in two years, and it was the school’s first home loss in its seven years as a program.
It also proved a milestone for Howell, which looked like it might be run out of the gym in the first quarter trailing 20-12. But the Highlanders pulled off a stunning turnaround in the second, outscoring Arbor Prep 18-3 and never trailing again.
The solution, coach Tim Olszewski said, was simple.
“We were just missing our assignments,” he said of the first quarter. “Our rotations weren’t there. WE were standing around and playing school ball, and that’s not how you can win. We told the girls to make sure they were doing their assignments, and the girls responded and executed.”
Arbor Prep (3-1) put the ball in the hands of Lasha Petree in the first quarter, who stuck a pair of threes and finished with 13 points in the quarter. Howell’s defensive adjustments proved most beneficial to sophomore Kaylee Wendell, who shadowed Petree the rest of the night.
“Coach told me to stay in front of her,” Wendel said. “She got her points (a game-high 24), but I basically obtained my goal.”
The Gators also found out that the Highlanders aren’t The Lexie Miller Show on offense. Miller had averaged 24.5 points in Howell’s two previous games, which drew an endless amount of double teams on offense. But that leaves others open, and both Wendel (12 points) and Leah Weslock (18) took advantage.
“Kaylee hit that three early, so they had to respect her to do that as well,” Olszewski said.
The Gators never recovered. After scoring 20 in the first quarter, they managed just 21 the rest of the game.
Miller had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“They had a little surge in the third quarter,” she said of Arbor Prep. “We talked about having the same mentality, get up on defense and stop the ball, which we did.”
The result sent ripples through the basketball community, but Miller says it will impact her team as well.
“I think it definitely boosts our confidence,” she said. “It just shows we can compete with the top teams in the state, bring confidence to ourselves and show people who we really are.”
Until then, there’s a week before Howell’s KLAA opener with Novi.
“It’s a very good feeling,” Olszewski said afterward. “I think we’re maturing pretty quickly as far as season experience, but this one is over. I’m going to savor it on the bus ride home, and (Saturday) will be an ice day of rest and Sunday we’ll go back at it.”