Panther women’s basketball team rallies, but falls short

MIDDLEBURY — On Saturday, visiting Plattsburgh State dealt the Middlebury College women’s basketball team a 68-62, semester-ending setback that showed both the Panthers’ strengths and what they need to work on when they return after the holidays.
The 3-2 Panthers, who started two sophomores and three freshmen against the 5-2 Cardinals, outrebounded their taller opponents, 59-41; kept turnovers to a reasonable number (15); got another strong game from freshman center Catherine Harrison (18 points, 13 boards); and used their quickness to make a late run at Plattsburgh, pulling to within five in the final minutes after trailing by 13 early in the fourth quarter.
Coach K.J. Krasco, in her second year guiding the Panthers, said she liked the grit and speed they showed down the stretch.
“We’re a more athletic team than we were last year,” Krasco said. “To see us battle back at the end of the game because of fullcourt pressure, I don’t think that’s something we could have done last year.”
The rebounds included 29 on the offensive glass, but Krasco noted that stat came along with another number — the Panthers shot 29.3 percent for the game, and have not always shot well this season.
“I like the stat of 29 offensive rebounds, that’s awesome,” Krasco said. “We also took 30-something more shots than they did. It’s just a matter of being able to make them.”
To an extent, the issue is the Panthers, just five games into a season with four new starters, including three freshman, are still learning to gel as a unit.
“I feel like we’ve kind of been on a roller coaster, and it kind of shows in our games,” Krasco said. “We play really well at times. I thought we started off the game pretty well. And we can also play really poorly at times. So it’s trying to find that happy medium and become a more consistent team while learning how to play with each other.”
It would help, too, if the Panthers would not settle, as they did vs. Plattsburgh, for taking 18 three-pointers (and making just one), when Harrison is averaging 14.8 points (trailing only sophomore guard Sarah Kaufman’s 17.4) and shooting almost 57 percent.
“We need to get her more touches. We talk about it. It’s just a matter, I think, of learning to play with each other and learning how to make a pass to the post,” Krasco said.
Krasco said the Panthers are also still adjusting to college-level defense. Plattsburgh shot 43.9 percent, and could have won more easily if not for a 14-for-26 performance from the free-throw line.
But Krasco is confident the Panthers will work out the kinks.
“Prepping and following through with our scout and then bringing it to the court is where our disconnect is the most right now,” she said. “As we become more seasoned in practice, we’re going to become smarter players on the court.”
And the team hopes junior forward Elizabeth Knox can return from an illness sometime next month. Knox led the team in both points (14.0 per game) and rebounds (7.4 per) last winter.
“She’s a special player, and not to have her and be able to do what we’ve done the first semester, is I think pretty good for a group of freshmen and sophomores,” Krasco said.  
On Saturday, Plattsburgh took the lead for good in the second quarter, outscoring Middlebury by 16-11 over the final 6:30 to lead at the half, 36-31. PSU forward Stephanie Linder and guard Allie Taylor each scored five points in that stretch. Harrison scored 12 in the first half, while Kaufman had seven. Freshman Amanda Bayer hit both of her first-half shots.
PSU stretched its lead by outscoring the Panthers, 19-11, in the third period. Cardinal leading scorer Devona Paul erupted for 11 points in the period. Kaufman scored six in the quarter, but the Cardinals led, 55-42, entering the fourth.
Paul quickly made it 57-42, but then the Panthers began to rally. Freshman Colleen Caveney put in her own miss, and Kaufman drove it 57-46. Taylor hit a free throw, and then Kaufman took it to the hoop again at 6:50 to make it 58-48
Taylor hit a jumper, but then the Panthers went on a 6-0 run. Harrison hit in the post, and then she and Bayer converted putbacks to make it 60-54. Paul soon made it an eight-point game, and the Panthers missed two shots before sophomore Sabrina Weeks hit their only three of the game at 1:45. Paul then hit two free throws before Caveney did the same for Middlebury to make it 64-59.
Then Linder hit a three for PSU at 1:10 to make it 67-59. Caveney’s three-point play at 0:38 gave Middlebury some hope, but a late Cardinal free throw created the final score.
Paul led PSU with 24, while Taylor had 11 points and 10 boards. Linder scored 14.
Kaufman scored 16 with six boards, Caveney and Weeks each scored seven with seven boards, Bayer scored six with four boards, and Eileen Daley scored four with 13 rebounds.
Krasco is confident that the next semester will see more progress. 
“(I like) the energy level, the effort, the positively that we have on a daily basis from my team,” Krasco said. “I have a group that is buying in and is eager to gel.” 
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE FRESHMAN Catherine Harrison scored a team-high 18 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in Saturday’s loss to Plattsburgh.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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