Leader Blues

Friday, December 05, 2008

SPORTS>> Defense propels Cabot into finals

Leader sports editor

Cabot proved something on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Searcy Bank Classic.

You can shut down their all state guard Adam Sterrenberg and still lose decisively.

Abundant Life learned that lesson when it used the combination of Michael Steele and Mike Stramiello to limit Sterrenberg, an Arkansas State signee, to 15 points. But the Owls couldn’t find an answer for post man Miles Monroe, who hit them from inside and out on his way to 19 points as Cabot reached the tournament finals with a 58-48 win.

“You pick your poison with them,” said Abundant Life coach Tim Ballard, whose Owls fell to 11-6. “Steele was glued to (Sterrenberg) all night. I told them before the game, Sterrenberg is so special, let’s make everybody else beat us.”

Cabot improved to 4-0 despite shooting poorly from the field and despite a second-half lapse that had head coach Jerry Bridges a little less than thrilled.

“I thought our shot selection during a three-minute stretch in the second half was terrible,” he said. “And we got lax on defense. That drives me crazy. But we got a win over a good team and we showed some good flashes.”

The Panthers struggled to a 23-of-67 shooting night, making just 2 of 16 from beyond the arc. But they were able to overcome that chilly performance by turning the ball over only eight times, by outrebounding Abundant Life 44-39 and by playing great defense on the other end. The Owls shot under 33 percent, making 15 of 47 overall, including just 4 of 23 in the first half.

Cabot used an extended 1-3-1 trap zone and challenged the Owls’ passes throughout the night. Abundant Life had 16 turnovers and made only 3 of 18 from three-point range.

“We can’t recreate that size in practice,” Ballard said. “I almost gave our guys whiffle ball bats with gloves on them in practice because Cabot is so long they almost have their fingers touching out there.”

Dane Lottner, playing on the high post, mostly had to create his own looks, and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

“Coach Ballard has a very good group,” Bridges said. “They’re going to make a lot of noise in 2A. Lottner is a really good ball player and does a lot of good things.”

One of those things, besides scoring, is rebounding. Lottner skied for a game-high 11 boards and also blocked a shot. Cabot, meanwhile, showed off its balance for the second straight game in the tournament. Five players grabbed six rebounds or more, led by Gary Clark’s nine boards.

The game began with a furious pace and pretty much kept it up throughout. Abundant Life got three of its four first-half baskets in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the contest and was within two points. The Owls would get only one more field goal over the next 13 minutes.

Monroe hit a couple of mid-range baseline jumpers, then capped off a 17-7 run with a 12-footer as Cabot began to take control. Abundant Life hung around by making 7 of 9 free throws in the second quarter, but it collected no field goals and trailed 38-19 at intermission.

“I challenged them in the locker room to try to win the second half,” Ballard said. “I told them not to try to get all 19 points back at once.”

The lead grew to as many as 22 before the Owls’ 7-0 run, which included a crowd-rousing alley-oop pass from Steele to Lottner for a jam, got Abundant Life within 55-39. Dustin Keathley’s lay-up along the baseline, George Herring’s putback and Steele’s three with 1:50 left drew the Owls to within 56-46, and they had a chance to get even closer after a missed Cabot free throw.

But Clark’s two charities with 34 seconds sealed it as Cabot moved on to the finals to take on last night’s Conway-Wynne winner at 7:30 tonight.

Austin Johnson added nine points, six assists and seven rebounds while Alex Baker had seven points. Jack Bridges had only three points, but dished out five assists and grabbed six rebounds.

After Lottner’s 19, Steele added 11. Stramiello had six. Garrett Southerland scored four points and grabbed seven rebounds.

“We’re getting better defensively, which was a concern coming into this year,” Bridges said. “These boys have some goals. But sometimes we get too comfortable and we have to stress to them you can’t get comfortable especially against a good team.”

Abundant Life takes on the Conway-Wynne loser today at 4:30.