Women’s hoop is 3-0 after topping Johnson State Badgers

MIDDLEBURY — Despite an underwhelming first half in the Panthers’ home opener two days before Thanksgiving, the Middlebury women’s basketball team eventually had little trouble moving to 3-0 by defeating Johnson State, 62-34.
The good? The Panthers held a second straight foe to fewer than 40 points, limited the 2-2 Badgers to 23 percent shooting, and outrebounded their third straight opponent, in this case by 54-29.
The not-so-good? Middlebury shot 22 percent in the first 20 minutes and scored just seven points in the second quarter on the way to an 18-12 lead after a first half that had observers and coaches alike scratching their heads.
“It may have been a little bit of nerves,” said Middlebury Coach K.J. Krasco. “We were just kind of flat.”
Added Krasco of the coaches’ halftime message to the Panthers: “We tried to let them know we weren’t quite on vacation yet.”
Message received. In the first 2:45 of the second half the Panthers, sparked by defense from sophomore guards Colleen Caveney and Alex Huffman, got points from every starter in a 13-0 run that made it 31-12.
Leading scorer Sarah Kaufman — a junior who is one of only three Panther upperclassmen — hit a three and fed sophomore center Catherine Harrison inside to start the surge. Caveney, who led Middlebury with 15 points, scored twice on the break, once after one of Huffman’s two steals during the run, and also fed Harrison for a hoop in transition. Huffman capped the decisive run by going coast-to-coast for a layup at 7:15.
Krasco said the Panthers were moving well defensively in the first half, but once they started running on offense the other half of the picture came into focus.
“We began to play at a higher pace and work together and get good shot opportunities,” Krasco said. “It just looked like we were just a little sluggish in the first half.”
In the first quarter neither team scored for the first 5:27, when Caveney sank a three. The Panthers took an 11-5 lead after one. They scored four second-chance points, and freshman guard Kira Waldman fed a cutting Caveney for two and drove for two more. Johnson hit two unintentionally banked shots in the period, one of them Kaitlyn Brouard’s buzzer-beating three-pointer.
In the second quarter, the teams combined to make six shots and turn the ball over seven times while scoring seven points each.
Afterward, Krasco praised the Badgers’ sticky man defense, but at halftime she reminded the Panthers the plan was to push the ball.
“We had talked about that as our game plan, and we also said at halftime we were getting outworked, and I think they took that to heart. Because give credit to Johnson,” she said. “They’re a tough team. Their post players are physical. They have some talented guards who are quick and supply some ball pressure.”
But when the Panthers took charge after the break the game became one-sided, although Badger guard Domonique Carter-Stanley scored eight of her team-high 11 points in third period to help her team twice pull within 15 points, the final time at 43-28. Carter-Stanley finished as the only Badger in double figures.
Caveney hit two free throws at 0:1.3 of the third to make it 45-28, and she sparked a 6-0 run to open the fourth with a bucket and a feed to Harrison sandwiched around a Huffman steal and layup. The Panthers pulled away from there.
Kaufman scored nine points and added six boards. Harrison scored eight and added a game-high 11 boards. Huffman led in assists (four) and steals (three) to go with eight points and 10 boards (she leads the team in all three categories), and freshman Maya Davis started and hauled in 10 rebounds. Caveney defended Johnson leading point-getter Ashley Goddard, who did not score on Tuesday.
Off the bench, Waldman played with confidence, handled the ball and defended well, and chipped in six points, four boards and two assists. Freshman post player Betsy Knox was active defensively and recorded five boards and two assists, and freshman forward Lily Kuntz scored eight points and set up three hoops.
Davis, Knox and Kuntz are all listed at 5-11 or 6-0, and have boosted the Panther defense and rebounding, Krasco said; another 6-3 freshman, Vanessa Young, is expected back from an injury.
“With our additional size in the freshman class, it’s really helped us to play a little bit more aggressively on the defensive end,” Krasco said.
The Panthers are also playing without injured junior rotation member Sabrina Weeks, who, like Young, is expected to return and give the team a lift.
“Vanessa is a unique player. She has a lot of size and has a very nice outside shot. We can utilize her inside out. And Sabrina is just a strong, strong versatile player,” Krasco said. “It’s just going to add to our depth and competitiveness for playing time when those guys are healthy.”
Krasco knows tougher challenges are coming, and said the defense has to continue to improve.
“We work on that in practice every day, and we need to, because in order to compete in our league and improve and play some of the top teams in the country, which we’re going to, we have to become a tougher, more disciplined defensive team,” she said.
Krasco expects some of the offensive wrinkles to smooth out as her young Panthers continue to learn to play with each other and execute more effectively.
“When we run our offense we get good shots,” she said.
Krasco also knows that especially in NESCAC play other teams will focus on shutting down the team’s established scorers, Kaufman and Harrison, so others will have to be ready to hit shots.
“We need other players to step up and score,” she said, adding, “We’re going to have to make free throws. We’re going to have to take pressure shots and make them.”
Krasco is looking forward to watching her young team meet the challenges.
“We have a lot of good positive energy surrounding the team this year. It’s just really swaying that energy into focus and intelligence on the court,” she said. “We have some players who are capable of doing some really exciting things.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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