ROCHESTER — If there’s a name for the defense Culver Girls Academy unleashed against New Prairie Friday, head coach Gary Christlieb isn’t saying.
Whatever it was, it was effective.
The Lady Eagles, showing off a defense that resembled a diamond-and-one zone with elements of man-to-man and halfcourt trap, held the Cougars to a measly 10-of-44 shooting clip from the floor while creating 16 turnovers — including a 1-for-10 third-quarter effort with six turnovers in the same span — en route to a 43-24 Sectional 19 semifinal shellacking at Rochester.
“We can’t divulge that; it’s top secret,” said Christlieb. “We’ve played a zone most of the season, and it works well with us. That’s what we’ve tried to do. There are things that we’ve got to do a little bit better, a couple rotation issues, but overall that’s been our mainstay on defense throughout the season. As the old saying goes ‘You’ve got to dance with the partner you brought,’ so that’s what we’re doing.”
With 6-foot-3 sophomore standout Andrijana Cvitkovic controlling the lane, the Cougars had trouble penetrating the paint for easy buckets and couldn’t work inside-out to the perimeter either, stumbling to a 4-of-13 conversion rate from 3-point land. Cvitkovic recorded five blocks while 6-3 senior sub Cassandra Hall swatted out another two, and CGA held New Prairie shooter Courtney Spencer to 3 of 13 from the field and nearly six points under her average with eight for the night.
“We thought we got a little bit too spread out in the first half trying to chase them so we kind of packed it in. They started to shoot from the outside, and I think our size really kind of took advantage at that point because then they really quit going inside at all,” Christlieb said.
“That was the difference: We pushed their offense out of the middle, got them back out to the perimeter, and we were able to trap them in a couple spots, turn them over. When they did drive Cvitkovic did a nice job of controlling the lane and Hall did the same thing, and I think that probably was the key point that let us get into our run.”
Cvitkovic sparked a 9-0 run spanning 4:54 of the first and second frames on a backdoor feed from point guard Kylee Shipley at the 48-second stop of the opening quarter, and the Eagles took a 19-10 lead into the intermission despite a relatively slow start. But it was their 10-2 third frame that put the game away as they kicked off the second half with 3-of-4 field shooting on their way to a 29-7 lead with one period to go.
Christlieb credited his team’s start both to the emotional aftermath of CGA’s nail-biting 49-48 sectional-opening win over three-time defending champion Plymouth Tuesday as well as the Cougars’ patient offense.
“You come off of an emotional win Tuesday. To New Prairie’s credit and to (New Prairie head coach) Dan’s (Shead) credit, he went after us, tried to slow us down, and sometimes that gets kids lulled a little bit not only on the defensive end but on the offensive end as well,” said the Eagles boss. “You think you’ve got to come out and make some plays. You get a little bit more rushed, and then you miss some of those layups that normally you’re going to hit in the normal flow of the game. They clearly got the tempo into their favor, and then we were able to put the two runs on them that really put it into our favor. We got up and down the floor, hit some shots, got some layups, and that was where we moved it out to 20, and we felt fairly comfortable from that point on.”
Culver converted 16 New Prairie turnovers into nine points and capitalized on a 41-28 rebounding advantage to push the pace with numerous transition layups off outlet passes.
Cvitkovic finished with a game-high nine points and 11 rebounds, and Shipley — who was recently named to Hoosier Basketball Magazines list of Top 100 Senior Girls — scored eight while distributing five assists with only two turnovers running the point for the Eagles.
“We want to get up and down the floor; we want to push the tempo, and we were able to do that,” said Christlieb. “Early we got a little bit antsy, and then we settled down and let things come to us. It’s tough for anybody in athletics but particularly for high school kids when you tell them ‘Let the game come to you.’ That is so important and relevant, but not always are you able to do that but those two (Shipley and Cvitkovic) did that.”
New Prairie closes out a 7-14 campaign with Friday’s loss, while CGA improves to 15-6 and moves on to Saturday’s championship at 7:30 p.m. EST. Culver now faces host Rochester, which used a 21-16 fourth quarter to beat Mishawaka Marian 51-46 in the other Sectional 19 semifinal Friday as the Eagles vie for their first sectional title since the 1996-97 season and just the program’s sixth overall.
Class 3A Sectional 19 Semifinal
• CULVER GIRLS ACADEMY 43, NEW PRAIRIE 24
Score by quarters
NP: 5 10 7 24
CGA: 10 19 29 43
NEW PRAIRIE (24): Heather Macher 0 0-0 0, Courtney Spencer 3 0-0 8, Jessica Cinal 1 0-0 2, Samantha Emerick 1 0-0 3, Paige Thompson 0 0-0 0, Mary Gamble 2 0-2 4, Jayne Colanese 1 0-0 3, Katelyn Buford 0 0-0 0, Kelsey Prestin 0 0-0 0, Saraj Vanwaardenburg 0 0-0 0, Katie Singleton 1 0-2 2, Alexis Buford 1 0-0 2; Totals: 10 0-4 24.
CGA (43): Alexis Christlieb 0 0-0 0, Kenzie Ungar 3 0-0 6, Katie Gawor 0 1-2 1, Andrea Lin 0 0-0 0, Kylee Shipley 4 0-0 8, Annie Morshces 0 0-0 0, Brenna Newell 3 0-0 6, Victoria Christlieb 3 1-2 7, Cassandra Hall 1 0-0 2, Lindsay Haller 1 2-2 4, Andrijana Cvitkovic 3 3-5 9, Emily Gilland 0 0-0 0; Totals: 18 7-11 43.
3-point goals: New Prairie 4 (Spencer 2, Thompson, Colanese), CGA 0; Turnovers: New Prairie 16, CGA 9; Rebounds: New Prairie 28 (Spencer 5), CGA 41 (Cvitkovic 11); Assists: New Prairie 3 (Macher 2), CGA 9 (Shipley 5); Steals: New Prairie 8 (Macher 2, Gamble 2), CGA 11 (Shipley 5); Blocked shots: New Prairie 0, CGA 7 (Cvitkovic 5, Hall 2); Fouls (fouled out): New Prairie 8 (none), CGA 12 (none); Records: New Prairie 7-14 (final), CGA 15-6.