By Matt Popchock
Let’s play an impromptu game of “Password” with Seton-LaSalle’s new head coach, Dennis Squeglia.
The password is: Naje Gibson. What word can he come up with to describe her?
“Incredible,” Squeglia said of the freshman forward’s impact after a reflective pause. “It’s incredible that a kid that age can step up in an atmosphere like this and play that way.”
If she keeps playing “that way,” there doesn’t seem to be much stopping Squeglia and the Lady Rebels from reaching the “bonus round.”
In perhaps her strongest and most important game since joining the varsity squad, Gibson paced all players with 17 points and 17 rebounds, as consensus No. 2 Seton-LaSalle picked apart consensus No. 1 Bishop Canevin in a 43-27 defensive struggle at Bishop Canevin High School Monday night.
The Rebels (6-0, 12-2) took sole possession of first place in Class AA Section 5 from the Crusaders (5-1, 10-2) and extended their winning streak to eight games, while bringing Canevin’s nine-game streak to a close. Bishop Canevin was held below 30 points for the first time since last year’s state playoffs.
It became clear at the outset that this contest would be a war of attrition. Both teams played the first two-and-a-half minutes without a basket until a lay-in through traffic by Canevin’s Carly Forse broke the ice. That seemed to wake up Seton-LaSalle, which responded with a 9-0 run thanks to solid work in the paint and never looked back.
The Rebels’ zone defense posed countless problems for the Crusaders, who constantly turned the ball over and got caught flat-footed as Seton-LaSalle moved around and moved the ball like lightning. Perhaps the Crusaders were merely caught on an off night, but they made Bishop Canevin look comparatively tentative on offense, and it played right into the visitors’ hands.
“We had a good week of preparation and it showed tonight,” Squeglia said. “Our kids had fun, and they played hard. We knew we had to match their intensity…and tempo is something we always want to dictate.”
“We were ready for this,” Gibson affirmed.
So ready, in fact, that the Rebels held Class AA top-ten scorer Erin Waskowiak, a sophomore guard averaging over 18 points per game, to ten points, not allowing her first field goal until the third quarter. Bishop Canevin was limited to single digits in three quarters and never registered more than three field goals in any period.
“[Waskowiak] was our priority. She’s one of the best players in Double-A, if not the entire WPIAL. We switched kids off on her, and they all did a really good job,” Squeglia said.
The one silver lining early on for Canevin was that, by attacking the zone, they got the Rebels into foul trouble and were already in the bonus with 1:51 left in the opening period. But the Crusaders could never manage the ball well enough to use the foul line to get back in the game, and some easy opportunities for Gibson in transition helped Seton-LaSalle take a commanding 30-16 lead at halftime.
“I just tried to keep pace with everything and help my team,” said Gibson, who had a double-double before the intermission.
Canevin’s defense, one of the five least scored-upon units in the classification, did its part to slow down the highest-scoring team in Class AA. Waskowiak’s three-pointer midway through the third provided the first points of the quarter, but with the rest of the Crusaders held in check and Gibson cleaning the glass, Canevin never got closer than seven points from the second quarter forward.
“We like to run whenever we can, no question,” Squeglia said. “But when we can’t, we have to be good in our half-court system.”
All in all, it was an impressive signature win for the man who had a tough act to follow when he took over for the very successful Bryan Bennett this past off-season.
“[Bishop Canevin coach] Tim [Joyce] does a great job with his kids, and they play great defense. All week I told my girls, tonight we have to be better than that on their floor, and we put it together.”
(Click here to relive any or all of the action from our Game of the Week, thanks to my friends at the MSA Sports Network.)
For continuing coverage of WPIAL basketball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!