Linn-Mar struggled to reset its offense Tuesday night with a paucity of post players, succumbing to a surging Waterloo West squad, 55-44, in a Mississippi Valley Conference girls basketball game at Linn-Mar.
Before the holiday break the 12th-ranked Lions (6-5, 3-4) fell to a top-ranked Illinois team, a hot Prairie squad and No. 1 Iowa City West. But the cruelest blow was losing senior post Shanice Cheatham to an ACL injury in the Dec. 20 game against the Women of Troy.
Tuesday night they also played without senior post Rachel Thrune, and junior forward Sara Strauel was unavailable until the second half.
The Wahawks (7-4, 3-4) used their size and a hectoring defense to contain Linn-Mar in the first half and held on through a late Linn-Mar charge to win their fourth straight.
“It was a great win for us,” said Wahawks Coach Anthony Pappas. “Linn-Mar battled us to the end. We kind of broke it open a little bit, got up by 10 or 12, and tried to milk that the rest of the way.
"We hit our free throws down the stretch and that allowed us to win the game. It’s our fourth in a row and it’s the second ranked team we’ve beaten on the road in the last two outings, so we’re feeling pretty good.”
Waterloo West stunned previously unbeaten Cedar Rapids Washington on Dec. 20.
The Lions scored their first field goal of the game at 4:25 of the opening period and didn’t manage another one until the final minute of the second quarter. Both teams scrapped for every possession and missed a multitude of shots in the early going, but the Wahawks doubled up on the Lions, leading 8-4 after one period and 22-11 at the half.
“They extend so well, they’re so long and have long arms, so when you drive in there, there’s not a lot to do if you don’t have size,” said Linn-Mar Coach Mike Brandt. “If our guards get in there, it’s a tough pass to get it back out.
"Once we did, though – and got rid of it sooner – we got some nice looks in the second half, and that’s what we have to get better at is the drive and kick and really set each other up for our open shots.”
Linn-Mar found its shooters after the break and fought its way back into the game with six 3-pointers, including three by Kristen Eiles.
A determined Mykaela Brandt turned the taller Wahawks’ menacing presence under the basket into a flurry of opportunities at the charity stripe, hitting 11 of 13 for the game.
The Lions whittled the Wahawks’ 12-point lead to five with just over two minutes to play, but couldn’t close the gap as Waterloo West was equally proficient at the stripe, nailing 10 free throws in the final two minutes.
“We had a couple kids that weren’t able to play tonight and another one that couldn’t play for a half, so we had to make a lot of adjustments with personnel, and I was very, very happy with the way that kids stepped in there into positions that they normally haven’t played,” Brandt said of his team’s effort.
“It’s a big challenge for us to make sure that we get kids maybe playing some different spots to learn their position, but we’ll get there. We’ll battle every game and all the way through.”
Cheatham, who averages 8.1 points and 4 rebounds for the Lions, said it was tough to hear the National Anthem and not be poised to play.
“But I still have to play the role as a captain and a leader of my team,” she said after the game. “I told them that they had a good effort, they were there the whole time, they didn’t let [the Wahawks] get a good lead on them, they stuck in there.
"I told them to keep their heads up. It’s a learning thing and there’s a lot of new girls trying to work in there together.”
The Wahawks were led by Blaire Thomas with 20 points and Zinka Duric with 18. Brandt scored 17 to lead the Lions, who out-rebounded the Wahawks 23-18.
The Lions will be at home against Xavier on Friday night. Waterloo West faces Waterloo East at home.
WATERLOO WEST (55): Ashley Hill 0 5-6 5, Makayla Stokes 0 1-2 1, Haley Puk 1 6-6 9, Zinka Duric 4 9-11 18, Blaire Thomas 10 0-0 20, Hannah Swartzendruber 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 21-25 55.
LINN-MAR (44): Courtney Major 1 0-1 2, Mykaela Brandt 2 11-13 17, Sara Strauel 0 0-0 0, Hannah Yearling 1 3-6 5, Kristen Eiles 3 0-0 9, Alexis Libenguth 1 3-3 5, Kelsey Duggan 0 0-0 0, Jenna Harms 1 1-2 4, Carly Ryder 1 0-0 2. Totals 10 18-25 44.
Halftime – Waterloo West 22,Linn-Mar 11. 3-point goals – Linn-Mar 6 (Eiles 3, Brandt 2, Harms 1), Waterloo West 2 (Duric, Puk ). Fouled out – Swartzendruber, Brandt, Yearling.
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