Blue Springs has had not had much luck against crosstown rival Blue Springs South in recent years as it had lost seven straight going into Thursday’s girls basketball showdown.
The Wildcats, finally, found a way to end their drought against their Suburban Big Seven nemesis.
Wildcats forward Reggie Kanagawa helped her team withstand an attempted comeback by South by scoring 12 of her game-high 16 points in the second half and her teammate Aliyah Bello led a stout defense in a 44-30 win at Blue Springs South High School.
“This was probably our best game of the year,” Blue Springs coach Mark Spigarelli said. “I think we executed better than we had all year. When we needed a big bucket, Reggie was there to get it for us.”
The only time South led was in the first quarter when Kaylee Connors, who had a team-high 15 points, nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to put her team ahead 9-8.
From there, the Wildcats (6-10, 3-3 Big Seven) seized control as they led 10-9 after guard Sy’Miah Smith, who had 13 points, got a steal and a fastbreak layup late in the first. Blue Springs then went into halftime up 23-10 after outscoring the Jaguars 13-1 in the second period.
“She’s our leader,” Spigarelli said of Smith. “She’s one of our more mentally tough players. When we were rattled, I saw her calming people down. She did a good job of that.”
South looked like it might mount a comeback early in the third when it went on a 5-0 run that was powered by a Leah Stanton 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Derrian Ford to make it 23-15. That’s as close as South got for the rest of the game as the Wildcats established Kanagawa inside. The 6-foot-1 senior often utilized a backdoor cut to get easy layups underneath the basket as an undersized Jaguar team had no one tall enough to block her shot. As soon as a pass was fed to her, she immediately put up a shot, which also resulted in two conventional three-point plays.
“My job is to run straight toward the basket and get underneath the rim,” Kanagawa said. “It just so happened that one of our girls would drive to the basket and my defender would leave me wide open and our girl would see it, get me a bounce pass and I shoot a layup.”
About six weeks ago Blue Springs switched to a 2-3 zone when it struggled to guard other teams while playing man-to-man defense. That worked to near perfection for the Wildcats as they helped force 13 South turnovers, swiped 11 steals and held the Jags to 9-of-40 shooting from the field (22.5 percent).
“We talked and moved better than we have in the past,” Bello said.
The defensive effort was keyed by seven steals from Bello.
“She was outstanding,” Spigarelli said of Bello. “Her intensity, she covered so much ground and got a lot of steals. Our guards did stop shots but they challenged enough shots that South didn’t shoot it like they normally do.”
Added Kanagawa of Bello: “She’s a beast.”
For South, the struggles on the offensive end have continued as zone defense continue to be its Achilles’ heel.
“People know that we struggle against the zone,” South coach Kory Lower said. “We didn’t shoot it very well, turned it over too much. Hard to beat a zone when you keep shooting threes and missing. That’s what we did tonight.”