Most coaches say defense is the key to any successful basketball team. The philosophy is working for coach Marty Rowe and his Lee University women's team.
The Lady Flames held 12th-ranked Bethel University to only 26 percent shooting from the field and posted a 61-47 victory over the visitors from McKenzie on Thursday evening in Walker Arena.
Sixth-ranked Lee improved to 9-1 on the year and will close out the pre-Christmas schedule with a road trip to Kentucky. The Lady Flames will face Pikeville University on Tuesday and then move to the western part of the state to challenge Brescia University on Thursday.
Rowe's unit had to depend on defense, especially after getting off to one of its slowest starts of the year. The Lady Cats jumped out to a 9-2 lead and Lee did not claim its first lead (21-19) until 16 minutes had ticked off the scoreboard clock. "It was kind of scary in the opening minutes," admitted Rowe. "We knew Bethel would come out fired up and we kind of backed away from their challenge in the first minutes."
The Lady Flames finally regrouped; settled down and moved in front 28-22, thanks to a 3-point bucket by Julia Zimmerman just before the half-time buzzer sounded. "That was huge," noted Rowe. "We came out and carried the momentum into the second half. I think they really got tired midway of the half and that helped carry us to the win. Bethel is a very good basketball team."
Lee built a 17-point lead with some 10 minutes remaining in the contest. Hollie German carried the bulk of the scoring load for much of the game but Jenna Adams found her stroke in the second half and helped spark the win. "Overall, our defense was good but we've got to have some more players step up and take charges. This group has a chance to be one of the best defensive teams we've had. Tonight we had to mix up our defenses to help slow them down, especially in the first half."
German paced the scoring with 20 points. She also recorded three rebounds, three assists and four steals. The Lee junior held Bethel's scoring leader Jackliann Street to only nine points. Adams finished with 14 points and a team-leading eight rebounds. Karley Miller gave the Lady Flames three players in double figures with 10 points.
Rowe praised the defensive play of Rachel Lockhart. The senior stepped up and took a couple of charges while scoring six points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing off three assists. Zimmerman also tallied a pair of three's and finished with six points, four rebounds and two assists.
With guard Brooke Hamby still troubled by a shoulder injury, freshman Melanie Barker stepped in and gave the Lady Flames several solid minutes. She had three points and five rebounds plus garnering two steals.
Bethel was led by Jasmine Taylor, who had 15 points and seven rebounds. Katie VanDyke hit three 3-pointers and was the only other Lady Cat in double figures (11 points).
It was not a great shooting night for the Lady Flames. They knocked down 23-of-59 shots from the floor (39 percent) and managed just 8-of-29 shooting from behind the arc. "I thought we rushed some of the 3-point attempts," stated Rowe. "We still have a lot to work on and several things to clean up but this club keeps improving with each game."