• Wildcats adjust style to fit personnel

  • There’s at least one thing the Blue Springs girls basketball team knows it can control.

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  • There’s at least one thing the Blue Springs girls basketball team knows it can control.
    It’s understood that points are going to be hard for the Class 5 No. 6-ranked Wildcats to come by this season. After losing natural scorers and Division I talents like Tyonna Snow (Missouri State) and Cee Cee Burris (Stetson) over the last two years, some offensive dropoff was inevitable.
    But defensively, Mark Spigarelli’s team might be better than ever, and that’s by design as the Blue Springs coach knew his offense would be a constant work in progress.
    Two seasons ago, the Cats averaged 63.3 points per game and totaled at least 70 points seven times. Their average dipped to 53.2 last year, but with Snow on the floor they still tried to push the game’s tempo and welcomed shootouts.
    The blueprint’s changed dramatically this season as Blue Springs’ average is down to 51.5 points per contest. The offense has also become extremely reliant on seniors Lizzy Wendell (15.6 points per game) and Karyla Middlebrook (10.8 ppg) as the pair has accounted for 84.1 percent of the Cats’ scoring.
    “Last year, we felt like we were able to run more,” Wendell said. “Last year we sped teams up and this year we’re trying to slow teams down just because we don’t have the numbers we have in the past.”
    If the Cats (8-2) are to make a fifth consecutive trip to the final four, Spigarelli knows they’ll eventually need to develop more secondary scorers to assist Wendell and Middlebrook. But in the meantime, they can hold their own by keeping their opponents’ scores even lower. The Cats are only allowing 30.1 points per game this season – 9.9 points lower than last season’s average.
    “Last year we had a lot more offensive threats so our defense wasn’t always our main focus,” Middlebrook said. “We could just score whenever we really wanted to. This year, we don’t have that, so our defense is really imperative to get more offensive looks.”
    The results have been effective if not always pretty. Blue Springs has held teams to 39 points or less seven times this season, although the Cats have failed to make it out of 30s four times themselves.
    “I don’t mind playing that way,” said Spigarelli, who added that many of his teams played a similar style when he was the coach at Pembroke Hill. “I don’t know that they like it as much. I think they’re believing in it. I’m sure it’s more fun to press and run up and down the court like we did two years ago than it is to play this style of play, but for us to compete with the elite teams, we’re going to have to play this style so we might as well get used to it.”
    Page 2 of 2 - This shift in philosophy was something the Cats knew they were going to have to make during the middle of last season when Snow suffered a concussion and Blue Springs promptly dropped games to Lee’s Summit North (54-37) and Ozark (51-40) with her sidelined.
    “I think we got that wake-up call that we were really going to have to change our style of play,” said senior guard Tara Sheehy. “But it’s possible to still be as great a team as we were last year, it’s just we have to focus on our strengths and have to bring those out.”
    There’s nothing secret about the defensive principles Spigarelli tries to teach. His teams have always played man-to-man with an emphasis on ball pressure and keeping opponents out of the paint with solid help defense.
    Those are tenants he’s always tried to instill in his teams regardless of style.
    “I remember when I was in eighth grade in Spig’s first year watching Blue Springs a couple of times,” Middlebrook said. “They just went so hard on the defensive end, ball pressure all over, it was crazy. Back then they had a lot of people and pressed all the time, but ever since Spigs has been here defense has been a big deal.”
    That’s because defense can be used as a crutch, Spigarelli said. There’s always going to be nights when shots don’t fall – for Blue Springs, there’s been a lot of those. But the Cats are still humming, mainly because they’re taking care of what they know they can control.
    “That’s one thing you know is never going to fail you,” Sheehy said, “is your defense.”

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