ELLIS, Kan. - The foundation for Oakley’s current 11-game winning streak started in the summer before the 2018-19 season. Oakley had zero seniors last year and worked with its core group that includes Jordyn Lowrie, Danielle Allison, Jada Renner, Jamie Kuhlman, Liberty Booker, and Lexi Shellito.
Then, Oakley installed a zone defense in ’18-19, just like Syracuse men’s basketball has used for decades with Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim. The Plainsmen never work on man-to-man. Oakley has slight adjustments for each team, including sometimes using a box-and-one against a star player.
Last year, the Plainsmen went 10-11. This winter, Oakley lost junior Andelyn Johnson, a starter, to a knee injury early in the season opener. Oakley started 6-5. Since then, the Plainsmen have not lost, including a 45-32 sub-state semifinals victory at Ellis on Thursday night.
“There’s some very much basic principles out of that Syracuse zone that we do,” coach Mike Zimmerman said. “And I am glad we started it that way, because now we can make little adjustments out of it, and they understand what we are trying to do.”
Second-seeded Oakley (17-5) will face No. 1 seed WaKeeney-Trego (21-1) in Saturday’s Class 2A Ellis sub-state championship game. Start time is 6 p.m. from Ellis High School.
“We have been building for this moment for two years now, so I really think that last year getting us all together and playing helped,” Allison said. “And now this year, we are like, ‘We’ve got to go, this is our year.’”
The Plainsmen lost twice to the Golden Eagles this winter, both games in mid-December.
“We knew we have to get through them,” Zimmerman said. “We have struggled to score the ball against them the last two years. But the bottom line is we have defended pretty decent against them. We have got to find a way to score.”
Lowrie, a Tabor College basketball signee, finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four blocks. However, the senior missed the final 3 minutes, 58 seconds of the first half after she split her chin on a hard fall under the basket.
Lowrie played the second half with a bandage that wrapped around her head. She is expected to get stitches and play Saturday.
“I knew she’s going to come back, because she is tough,” Allison said.
She picked up her fourth foul with 2:46 left in the third quarter and didn’t return until 4:22 remained in the contest. However, Oakley led 15-9 when Lowrie went out in the first half and held a 19-12 advantage at intermission. Ellis was never closer than nine in the fourth quarter.
“When Jordyn is not there, we still defend,” Zimmerman said. “We still get out there and defend.”
Allison has signed to run cross country and track at Tabor. The 5-foot-8 senior point guard has delivered superlative defensive efforts against several stars this winter, including Norton’s Tessa Hauser and Plainville’s Aubree Dewey. On Monday, Allison limited Dewey to just 12 points in the box-and-one. Dewey finished just shy of 2,000 points for her career.
“My length helps me on the perimeter, because not that many guards have a ton of length, but obviously I am not a big scorer, so I just like to step it up on D,” Allison said.
Versus Ellis, Oakley wanted to focus on the perimeter shooters. Oakley finished plus-10 on the glass and held Railer junior Grace Eck to 12 points. Eck went over 1,000 points in her career earlier this season.
“We were getting out to the 3-point line,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve got Jordyn inside, let’s get out and guard the 3. Let’s make them put the ball on the floor and do something else.”
Offensively, Allison had four points and four assists. Shellito scored six, including a key drive when Lowrie was out of the game. Booker, a sophomore post, had nine points and seven rebounds. She has stepped up throughout the year, especially in the second half.
She averages around 10 points a game, second to Lowrie, who collects in the 17 points a contest range. Renner finished with eight. Kuhlman, who Zimmerman had six rebounds and never fouled out despite a significant chunk of the second half with four fouls.
“We are not going to go out there and score a ton of points,” Zimmerman said. “That’s not who we are. And we know that. And our zone kind of slows the game down a little bit at times, so there’s a few less possessions then maybe other teams get in normal games and that sort of thing. So this is the way we play.”