After the 2020-21 season was cut considerably short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some rust was to be expected out of the Sun Prairie girls basketball team to start the season. The combination of not playing much as a unit and the introduction of several freshmen and sophomores to the varsity ranks raised more questions than answers.
This newness was on full display Thursday, Nov. 18 for Sun Prairie’s season opener. The Cardinals overcame a sloppy first half to put away Marshfield, 58-36, and start the season 1-0.
“We just had to settle in,” Sun Prairie head coach John Olson said. “We started off cold on offense and were fouling way too much. It’s the first varsity game for some of these players. We missed a lot of easy shots. Overall, I was pleased.”
Luckily for Sun Prairie, Marshfield couldn’t figure things out either. It took eight minutes of game time for either team to hit a shot from the field. The Tigers held a slim 4-2 lead for most of that time, all coming from the free throw line.
Speaking of the free throw line, Marshfield was there frequently. The Cardinals had put the Tigers into the bonus less than nine minutes into the game. Sun Prairie was playing very aggressive defense and was shamelessly handsy on ballhandlers, which the referees did not appreciate.
Finally, junior guard Avree Antony caught a pass from freshman Payton Beck, stormed up the court, and converted an and-one to break open the scoring floodgates. From there, the Cardinals wisely started feeding the post, specifically junior Lucy Strey, and finding some flow offensively.
Meanwhile, the defense was starting to calm down as well. Junior wing Marie Outlay’s basketball IQ was prominent in this contest. She utilized her quick-twitch reactions to gobble up steals and make things tough on the outside for Marshfield. Outlay even converted a steal into an easy layup as Sun Prairie attempted to build a lead.
“We knew we’d have to rely on our defense to score,” Olson said. “The offense was impatient, so the defense is what kept us going for awhile there.”
As the Sun Prairie offense became more productive, Olson could implement the full-court press off of made field goals. It yielded mixed results. At times, the Cardinals moved as one coordinated unit, properly defending and helping to best stifle the push upcourt. But, too often the Cardinals looked lost and unsure, letting ballhandlers dribble right by or leaving assignments wide open.
“They have to trust the systems,” Olson said. “This is new stuff for a lot of them, so it will come.”
The Cardinals went into halftime with a 35-21 lead and a lot of corrections to make.
Instead of development and progression, the beginning of the second half was marred by stagnant offense yet again. There was just one field goal scored in the first five minutes of action.
Thankfully for Sun Prairie, the drought only got worse for Marshfield. The Tigers didn’t score a field goal in the second half until there were only five minutes remaining in the game.
Meanwhile, Outlay was rolling. She did it all for the Cardinals. She nailed a 3-pointer, started and finished her own fast break with a steal, and displayed some nasty post moves to get the ball in the bucket. The Sun Prairie lead ballooned as the hapless Tigers just couldn’t buy a bucket.
Once Marshfield finally broke its scoring drought, coach Olson had seen enough and sent in the second unit. The Cardinals cruised to a 58-36 victory.
While getting the win is a nice start to the season, the Cardinals will need to shape up quickly. Next up on the schedule is Big Eight conference foe La Follette. The Lancers pose a far greater challenge than Marshfield and will take advantage of extended scoring droughts like the ones Sun Prairie displayed in this matchup. That game is set for Tuesday, Nov. 23 at La Follette High School.