Leader Blues

Friday, January 16, 2009

SPORTS>>Panthers bounce back, even record

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

It appears Jerry Bridges just might have got through to his team after a helter-skelter effort in a loss to Conway last Friday night.

The Cabot coach re-emphasized teamwork and patience after watching his Panthers get caught up in a run-and-gun game with the Wampus Cats on their way to a 14-point loss.

On Tuesday night, Cabot dished out 14 assists on 19 field goals in a fairly easy 54-38 victory over defending 7A state champion Little Rock Catholic at Panther Pavilion, improving to 11-5 overall, 1-1 in 7A Central play.

Leading scorer Adam Sterrenberg clearly heard his coach’s pleas, handing out six assists while scoring only four points.

“We’ve just got to not shoot as quick as we have been, especially when you’re not shooting well,” Bridges said. “I thought we did a good job of executing. To be up10 at half with Adam Sterrenberg not scoring, that’s a good thing. We’ve got to get people involved and show patience.

“I talked to Adam (on Tuesday) about his role. Some nights it’s going to be about him getting 25 points and some nights it’s going to be about him getting his teammates the ball. And I thought he did that tonight. He’s a great scorer. I thought his shot selection was very good tonight.”

Austin Johnson was the beneficiary of many of those feeds, though the way he was lighting it up on Tuesday, he didn’t require much help. Johnson knocked down six three-pointers on his way to 24 points.

“I hope that gives Austin a whole lot of confidence because we need him,” Bridges said. “Austin’s capable of being a fine ball player if he focuses. That past couple of games, he’s been very focused.”

Catholic (3-6, 1-1) lost three starters off last year’s championship club and the lack of scoring punch showed. The Rockets trailed 22-12 at the half after making only 6 of 21 shots. But even though the Panthers began the second half with Sterrenberg’s first basket of the game and Johnson’s fifth three-pointer to open up a 15-point lead, they could not shake the Rockets.

The inside combo of Michael Drake and Garrett Ukeman kept Catholic close. Ukeman’s rebound bucket and free throw late in the third drew Catholic to within eight points. But Johnson banked in a three as time expired in the third period and launched a 14-2 run that put the game away. Johnson also hit a buzzer-beating three to end the half.

Sterrenberg, the All-State scoring machine who committed to Arkansas State last year, went scoreless in the first half. In fact, only two Panthers scored before intermission. Johnson had 14, while reserve guard Alex Baker added eight and finished with 10.

“Alex has a great midrange game,” Bridges said. “I nicknamed him ‘The Microwave’ last summer because he can come off the bench and do what he did tonight. I try to work him and Jack (Bridges) together and I want to get around 14 points combined from them. I think that’s what they did tonight and they haven’t been the past couple of games.”

It was tough going inside for post man Miles Monroe against Ukeman and Drake, but the Panthers got him the ball and that helped open up the perimeter. Though the Panthers took 16 three-pointers out of 40 overall attempts, Bridges was not complaining.

“Miles might not have had a big scoring night but our objective was to get the big men some touches,” Bridges said. “The perimeter shooting is at a much higher percentage when the ball is getting kicked out from the post and I thought Miles made some good passes tonight.”

Perhaps nothing better demonstrated Bridges’ strategy than when Monroe got the ball on the blocks, drew a double team and bounce passed to a wide open Baker for a 12-foot bucket late in the first period. Monroe finished with nine points, five rebounds, four steals, two assists and two blocks.

Gary Clark didn’t score but pulled down five rebounds and grabbed a pair of steals. Jack Bridges had five points and two assists.

Cabot’s patience also paid dividends in another area as the Panthers committed only 11 turnovers, while forcing 18 by the Rockets. Cabot made 19 of 40 shots, 7 of 16 from deep. The Rockets connected on 15 of 36, but made only 1 of 7 three-pointers. The Rockets out-rebounded Cabot 29-22.

“I didn’t expect this, I’ll be honest with you,” Bridges said of the easy win. “I’ll take any win I can get in the 7A Central. But I thought it would be a grudge match to the very last second.”