The idea of an old school pep talk can seem corny.
But if it sparks the right players and is accompanied by a wise change in strategy, a halftime speech can pay off.
Coming off a home loss to vastly-improved Tumwater in its last game, the defending Class 2A state champion W.F. West High School girls basketball team was trailing Black Hills on the road Wednesday night in Tumwater when coach Tom Kelly let his players know just how highly he thought of them.
“I believe we’re a top five team in the state. We haven’t been playing like it,” Kelly said. “I told them, ‘You can’t change the spots on a leopard, and I know what this leopard is. It’s a good team.’ Teams have been ripping rebounds out of our hands, things like that. We’ve got to be the ones doing that.”
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He also had the Bearcats switch to a 1-2-2 press.
The results were immediate.
“They did everything I asked them to do. We put (6-foot-1 freshman) Drea Brumfield up front with her long arms to disrupt things, had people jumping into the passing lanes,” Kelly said.
With junior wing Annika Waring — who had made only a pair of free throws in the loss to Tumwater — breaking loose, W.F. West went from trailing by three points at the break to taking the lead for good just four minutes into the third quarter.
The Bearcats (8-5) rolled to a 69-51 victory that brought them into a second-place tie with the Wolves (9-4), a game behind Tumwater.
“Coach said he wanted to see fire in our eyes. We instantly looked at each other and knew we had to get going,” Waring said.
Waring scored only four points in the first half, including a layup at the buzzer, but finished with a game-high 23. Neither Brumfield nor senior Madi Haakenson — who led W.F. West with 21 against Tumwater — scored in the first half. Each scored 10 in the second.
In the loss to Tumwater, the Bearcats shot just 6 of 21 from the foul line. They were on a similar pace in the first half Wednesday, making just 3 of 10. After halftime, they made 14 of 19 free throws. They scored 48 points after halftime, including 26 in the third quarter.
“The other night we didn’t play our kind of basketball. In the second half tonight we did. That was the difference,” Waring said.
The lead changed hands four times in the opening minutes as Black Hills’ Mia Flores’ two 3-pointers were matched by Maggie Vadala and Courtney Bennett. Flores’ second triple, just after the three-minute mark, gave the Wolves a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the second half.
Black Hills’ largest lead, 21-13, came thanks to a quick five-point burst by Jordyn Bender, who led the Wolves in scoring, connecting for 11 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
After Waring and Bennett gave W.F. West the lead, 33-30, on fast break layups, Bender tied it with a 3-pointer from the right wing. But, seconds later, Waring countered with a 3-pointer and the Bearcats led for the final quarter-and-a-half.
W.F. West pieced together a 20-5 run to get double-digit breathing room heading into the final period. With two minutes remaining, a Madi Mercke free throw gave the Bearcats a 20-point lead, their largest of the night, at 67-47.
In addition to Bender, senior forward Alexa Bovenkamp reached double figures for Black Hills, scoring 10 points.
The loss does little to detract from Black Hills’ match-up with crosstown rival Tumwater on Friday. While the game won’t feature two teams undefeated in 2A EvCo play, a win for the Wolves — still without standout senior forward Maisy Williams (finger) — would throw the league race into a three-way tie for first.
WFW – Shooting 22 of 53 (41.5 percent). Free throws: 17 of 29 (58.6). Turnovers: 19.
BH – Shooting 18 of 59 (30.5 percent). Free throws: 10 of 18 (55.5). Turnovers: 19.
WFW – Maggie Vadala 4, Drea Brumfield 10, Maddie Mercke 6, Courtney Bennett 8, Sarah Haakenson 3, Annika Waring 23, Madi Haakenson 10, Chloee Akins 5.
BH – Megan River 4, Jordyn Bender 11, Saleen Lee 2, Mia Flores 8, Kennedi Greenfield 8, Alexa Bovenkamp 10, Addie Ainsworth 2, Kaitlyn Carson 6.