By Jeremy Balan
It’s hard to imagine that a pair of fouls early in the first quarter could be a deciding factor in any game, but that may have been the case in University High School’s non-league matchup against visiting Athenian on Wednesday.
The seemingly innocuous fouls came early in the first quarter, but they both came against standout University center Amelia King, and after she exited the game, Athenian’s lanky and athletic forwards took control.
King would return in the second quarter, but by then the Owls had opened up a 15-6 lead that University could not overcome in a 54-42 loss.
“If we played the first quarter like the rest of the game, we probably could have won,” said University head coach Ralph Barhydt. “[Losing King] really hurt because, as you can see, she’s a scorer and a good defender.”
King would finish with a team-high 19 points and seven blocks, but it was Athenian’s frontcourt of Aja Johnson and Paige Thompson that controlled play around the basket.
Johnson had a game-high 24 points and Thompson added 13, and the duo dominated on the offensive boards, often getting second, third and fourth chance opportunities.
“They were getting three or four shots [in a possession] and they couldn’t hit them, but we couldn’t get the rebound either because we weren’t boxing out,” Barhydt said. “They were just having shooting practice down there.”
All 10 of the Owls’ (4-1) first-half field goals came in the paint and they only had two baskets outside of the key in the game.
“For Division V, we’re a pretty tall team,” said Athenian head coach Dani Oswood. “So most of the time we’re going to try to focus inside.”
The Red Devils’ (3-4) offense struggled at times and they shot just over 28 percent from the floor, but they showed flashes of quick-striking ability, including an 8-0 run in less than three minutes of game time late in the third quarter to cut the lead to 35-29 heading into fourth.
The Red Devils also got a lift from a trio of freshman off the bench, as Gabrielle Chua, Mikaela Simanovich and Alana Zack combined for 21 points.
“This is our fourth loss this season and I think we could have won any of them,” Barhydt said. “We only have four returning players and they tend to get a little scared, but the experience is going to make them really good players.”
Aja Johnson – 24
Paige Thompson – 13
Allie Torru – 7
Sarah Ingram – 6
Two tied with 2 points
Amelia King – 19
Gabriella Chua – 10
Alana Zack – 7
Mikaela Symanovich – 4
Kaiza Molina – 2