Cougars split against cross-town rivals Silver Creek, Longmont
February 8, 2017
Niwot junior Mary Gillett didn’t hesitate when asked what the key was to her team’s victory over the Longmont Trojans last Friday Night.
“We focused on running the floor and getting back and guarding our players” she said. “We went back to our fundamental defense, and that’s what we thrive off of.”
“Defense makes an easy offense,” added her junior teammate Sophie Grant. “If you work hard on defense, the offense just comes.”
The offense has been coming pretty easily to the Cougars lately. In its last five quarters of play, Niwot has outscored its opponents 72 to 59, thanks to defense, and to improved free-throw shooting. The team was 26-of-41 from the line (63%) in two games last week, with sophomore center Zoe Gonzales responsible for nine of those (in 10 attempts).
Ordinarily, head coach Terri Ward doesn’t focus on free throw shooting much during practice since it’s mentally difficult to create game-like conditions. But minor tweaks to the routine seem to have produced major results.
“It’s all mental. It all comes down to deciding whether they want to make them or not,” she said. “And it’s getting better.”
Niwot’s offense got off to a quick start against cross-town rival Silver Creek on Jan. 31, but the same couldn’t be said of the defense. Niwot was down 31-24 going into the half, despite a 10-point effort from Gonzales. Silver Creek stretched the lead to double digits (40-26) with a just over a minute to go in the third when junior Allie Colvin’s three-point bucket set off a 30-18 scoring outburst by the Cougars. She would go on to score seven more points in the rally, including another three-pointer and two from the line.
But in the end, it wouldn’t be enough. The Cougars comeback, though impressive, was just short of miraculous, as they fell to the Raptors 58-56. Ward was philosophical about the loss, noting that the take-aways are more positive than negative
“This team never gives up and never stops playing hard,” she said. “When the opposing coach tells you that his team can’t hold a candle to your team’s hard work, then that’s quite a tribute to the kids.”
Grant said that the packed house and rivalry atmosphere may have contributed to her team’s sluggish start on defense, but also spurred them on in the game’s final minutes.
“We definitely had the jitters,” she said. “But we finally started coming together and playing as a team.”
Jitters or not, the team turned in a notable offensive performance. Gonzales and Gillet had 17 points apiece, and were a combined 12-of -16 (75%) from the line. Grant had nine, and senior Y.Y. Chen rounded out the scoring for Niwot with three.
Following the game, SVVSD Board of Education member Debbie Lammers was on hand to present district sportsmanship medals to Chen and senior Connor Ryan from the boys basketball team. Each year, the head coaches nominate up to four players for recognition of their outstanding sportsmanship, with the winner chosen by Lammers. Ward said that Chen was clearly a deserving winner.
“She has just grown so much this year,” said the coach of her co-captain. “Both her game and her leadership skills have gotten so much better.”
Chen’s skills were on full display three nights later, when the Cougars hosted Longmont. The Trojans were without their head coach Mike Knaus, a Niwot High grad, due to the unexpected death of his son earlier in the week. The crowd observed a moment of silence before the game, and a banner reading “Knaus Strong” hung in the visiting student section throughout the night’s doubleheader.
When these two teams met on Jan. 10, Niwot came away with a 41-37 overtime victory, the first over the Trojans since 2008. In Friday night’s contest, the Cougars made it known early on that they intended to start a win streak of their own.
The offense picked up where it left off against the Raptors, and was joined by a strong defensive effort in the first half. Chen led the team with 10 points in the first half, including two three-pointers, and would go on to score 13 on the night. Niwot held the Trojans to just five points in the second quarter, and took a double-digit lead (26-15) into the break.
The Cougars survived a scare in the second half, when their 43-26 margin at the end of the third quarter shrunk to just six points with 1:40 remaining. But a timely block by Gonzales with less than a minute to go halted Longmont’s comeback, and Niwot held on to win. Grant said it was hard to watch their lead evaporate, but ultimately she had faith in her team’s ability to be smart and patient.
“We just needed to calm down and ignore the loudness,” she said. “And focus on what we do best.”
With a split record on the week, the Cougars are 9-9 overall, and 4-5 in league play. But both Gillett and Grant believe the team is on an upswing.
“I definitely feel like we have some fire,” said Grant.
Gillett agreed, and added: “I’m hoping we can win out at home.”
Niwot hosts Mountain View on Tuesday, Feb. 7, then Thompson Valley on the 9th, and then get a rematch against Silver Creek on Feb. 11.
(1/31) — Silver Creek 58, Niwot 56
Raptors (11-6, 4-4) 15 16 10 17 — 58
Cougars (8-6, 3-5) 12 12 8 24 — 56
Zoe Gonzales 6 5-5 17, Mary Gillett 5 7-11 17, Allie Colvin 3 2-4 10, Sophie Grant 4 1-3 9, YY Chen 1 0-0 3 Totals 19 15-23 56
(2/3) — Niwot 48, Longmont 42
Trojans (6-11, 5-5) 10 5 11 16 — 42
Cougars (9-9, 4-5) 15 11 17 5 — 48
Zoe Gonzales 5 4-5 14, YY Chen 5 0-0 13, Mary Gillett 5 2-5 12, Sophie Grant 1 4-7 6, Allie Colvin 1 1-2 3, Totals 17 11-19 48