Lady Panthers split games versus top-ranked teams

 The Lady Panthers of Liberty Hill High School faced tough opponents in back-to-back play at the Panthers Den over the last few days. First, they met a Giddings team that was ranked No. 8 in class 3A, next they had a date with another top-10 team in Brownwood (No. 9).

On Dec. 16, Liberty Hill (13-4) beat Giddings (16-3) handily in the first game 66-40 and on Dec. 20, came up just short of another victory over a top-ranked team in Brownwood (14-3) 46-43.

“Coming in, Giddings was ranked No. 8 and we were No. 10,” said Liberty Hill Coach Matt Kirschner. “So that was a good win for us against an athletic team.”

It was an odd start to the Giddings game as neither team scored a point for the first three minutes until Liberty Hill’s Taylor Russell drew first blood after grabbing a rebound, putting it up and in while getting fouled. The senior forward proved to be the momentum builder for the Lady Panthers with five points in the first quarter, finishing with 12 for the  night.

A key point in the first was when Kourtney Bevers stole an inbounds pass and took it the other way for a layup and a foul to put the Lady Panthers up 7-0. She had four points in the quarter and 16 for the game as Liberty Hill closed it out on top 17-8.

The Lady Buffaloes made a run in the second quarter as they had some success breaking the Liberty Hill press to give them good looks that led to points. Giddings outscored Liberty Hill 15-14 in the period. But Jessica Green sunk two foul shots with no time on the clock, earning the Lady Panthers a 31-23 advantage at the half.

The Lady Panthers were seemingly a different team in the second half as their style of play led to turnovers and fast break points, while the defense allowed Giddings to score only two buckets in the third quarter. After three Liberty Hill was on top 49-29.

“We score in runs and you don’t know when that run is going to come,” Kirschner said. “And there wasn’t one for the first three minutes for either team. But all of a sudden we got a little run in the first quarter, then they came back with one of their own. In the third quarter we made a big 18-4 run.”

There was more of the same in the third as the Lady Panther defense was flying around the court, creating turnovers. Six different Lady Panthers scored in the final quarter as they closed out the Lady Buffaloes for a 66-40 victory.

Coach Kirschner talked about the depth of his team and the strategies he imposes.

“I don’t just rotate one person,” he said. “They already know the rotation; they know when they are going. It always leaves us with a solid group on the floor. The girls know they are going to get a rest so they can go hard for two and a half minutes spurts and then they will come out. You get a rest and come right back in. I have 11 kids that can play.”

Kirschner said he want to be able to control the tempo of the game to his liking, which is fast-paced.

“I don’t want a walk-it-up style; I want a fast pace because it gets most kids frantic and don’t like it,” he explained. “But we do. Our best offense comes off our defense. I choose to be great at the transition game and the rest will take care of itself.”

Versus Brownwood, however, it was a different story as the Lady Panthers were unable to control the game to their liking.

Down 3-0 early in the first, Liberty Hill came back to tie 5-5. As would be the theme of the game, there were four lead changes in the first period alone and a handful of ties. Bevers scored seven points to lead the Lady Panthers in the period as they went out to an 11-10 advantage after one.

There was much of the same in the second as there were three ties and six lead changes. As time ticked down in the quarter, Russell was at the line and made two free throws to give Liberty Hill a 23-22 lead with 13.6 to play in the half. But a last second shot that came off a Brownwood rebound gave the Lady Lions a 24-12 lead at the half.

“We killed ourselves plain and simple with too many unforced turnovers,” Kirschner said afterwards. But I give a lot of credit to Brownwood because they came ready to play.

The Lady Lions outscored the Lady Panthers in the third quarter 15-8 as shots that normally have scored this season, seemed to not fall for Liberty Hill. Coach Kirschner and the Lady Panthers found themselves in a 39-31 hole with one period left.

The final quarter saw a furious comeback attempt by the Lady Panthers.

With 4:26 remaining in the game, Liberty Hill was down by six (41-35). However a 6-0 run tied the game 41-41 led by back-to-back fast break buckets for Lorrie Potts with 1:52 on the clock.

Potts had one last opportunity to tie the game again as the Lady Panthers were down 46-43 and had the ball with 8.4 to play following a missed Brownwood free throw.

Coach Kirschner’s play was set and executed almost perfectly as the ball found Potts’ hands with not a defender within five feet of her. She stepped into to the shot that possessed good rotation and arc, but bounced off the rim and out, ending the comeback with a 46-43 final in an intense back-and-forth battle.

“We will learn from this game,” Kirschner said. “Defensively they did everything that I thought they would. We just didn’t execute offensively like we were supposed to.”

Kirschner said his message to the team after the game was to get refocused.

“We have to come to play everyday,” he said. “We can’t turn it on and off when we want. There are some things we have to work on. We are not where we want to be which is good. I don’t need them to be there until the end of February (when district play starts).”

Until then, the Lady Panthers will travel to Wimberley Dec. 27-29 for a tournament, followed by a matchup with Austin Travis at home Friday, Dec. 30 for their final game of 2011.