WaKEENEY, Kan. - Phillipsburg seventh-year coach Rachel Miller likes the 1-2-2 matchup zone defense. The Panthers have occasionally used the look in her tenure, though nearly always run man-to-man.
On Jan. 25, Phillipsburg lost by 14 points to WaKeeney-Trego in the Mid-Continent League tournament championship game with its man defense. WaKeeney junior standout Lili Shubert finished with 26 points.
Miller and assistant coach Robin Sides believed the Panthers needed to change for Friday’s road rematch. Phillipsburg spent three days installing a box-and-one and the 1-2-2.
The defenses led to a 47-40 victory versus the Golden Eagles in a Mid-Continent League contest at Trego Community High School. It marked the first time Phillipsburg had used the box-and-one this season.
“They listened to us,” Miller said. “They did buy into it. They trusted us. That’s kind of what we talk about. You have to have that trust in each other, and they went out and executed.”
Phillipsburg held WaKeeney to 26 percent shooting, including 4 of 21 (19 percent) from beyond the arc. Shubert, whom Miller called “deadly off the dribble,” finished with 10, around half her season average.
Panther freshman point guard Taryn Sides, who delivers 18 points a contest, tallied 20 points and 12 rebounds. Phillipsburg junior post Meredith Jacobs had two points and zero field goals in the Trego loss. She delivered 10 points and three rebounds. The Panthers were plus-12 on the glass.
“We knew that we were going to have to change up our defense,” Jacobs said. “Because Shubert was going to make it every single time. So we started out in a box-and-one, and we just really worked on crashing boards and getting on (Shubert) every single time.”
Phillipsburg (13-3, 6-1 MCL) has the inside track for the regular season league championship with the victory. The Panthers have not won an MCL regular season crown in more than 40 years, according to league archives.
“We have our mojo back,” Jacobs said. “That’s what we have been saying – we need our mojo back, and we finally got it back tonight. It feels really good. We were all so pumped in the locker room tonight.”
Trego’s last regular season crown was a three-way tie in ’83. Miller walked out the locker room wearing a big smile and wet from a celebratory water spraying.
After victories, Miller comes to the locker room with the water bottles and sprays the team. This time, Phillipsburg had other water bottles in the locker room, and the players grabbed those and gushed Miller.
“We got her pretty good,” Jacobs said with a smile.
WaKeeney-Trego, ranked No. 1 in Class 2A by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association, fell to 15-1. The Golden Eagles and Jefferson County North, ranked fourth in 2A, both suffered its first losses this week. JCN fell Tuesday to league foe Jackson Heights, who it had defeated earlier in the year.
No. 1 Spearville and No. 5 West Elk are the lone unbeatens in the classification. On Tuesday, WaKeeney faced similar defenses in a 34-28 road win versus Plainville, a 7-7 squad before Friday.
“They did a great job on (Lili),” WaKeeney coach Donnie Shubert said of Phillipsburg. “Kind of frustrated her a little bit. We passed up some shots that we should have been shooting. That’s what I was disappointed in.”
After a 51-45 overtime victory against Hoxie on Jan. 24, Phillipsburg had less than 24 hours to prepare for the first Trego meeting. The Panthers were ranked in three straight 3A polls with a high of ninth.
However, Phillipsburg dropped out this week after a 42-41 road loss to Oakley on Jan. 31. On Monday, the Panthers won at Stockton, 64-35. Then, the coaching staff sat down and decided to change for Friday’s contest, the third of five straight road games.
Phillipsburg has also fought minor injuries that have slowed players in practice. The whole team was not together Tuesday, the first day of defensive installation for WaKeeney. Wednesday marked the first day of practice with the full team.
“We all were like ‘What are you thinking?’ Jacobs said. “Because we only play man, and then in weird situations we play zone, and so when she said ‘Box and one,’ we were like, ‘What’s a box and one?’ We never played that, so it was a lot of learning in two days, but we figured it out.”
Senior Kristen Wells returned Friday after she had missed the last two games because of illness. Jacobs had battled illness in the first Trego contest.
“I was hoping this second time around would be a better showing for her,” Miller said of the 5-11 Jacobs. “And she has that ability to create mismatches from the other team. It’s just comes out to a confidence thing and trusting her ability and what she can do, and so I’m hoping that tonight will continue, because we’ve got a real tough week next week.”
Phillipsburg ran a box-and-one and WaKeeney had a 16-15 lead after the first quarter. Shubert was fouled on a 3-point attempt well beyond the line with four-tenths remaining. She made all three foul shots.
Phillipsburg went to the 1-2-2 for the final three quarters. The Panthers focused on guarding the perimeter first, and then collapsing inside on Trego senior Libby Frost and junior Tillie Malinowsky. Frost paced WaKeeney with 12.
“We just had to really talk,” Jacobs said. “We are really bad at talking sometimes.”
The Golden Eagles extended the advantage to 20-15 before Phillipsburg tallied 10 straight with eight points from Sides. The 5-foot-6 Sides scored twice off steals and once from a defensive rebound and went full court. The Panthers had a 29-25 lead at intermission.
“She’s got really quick hands,” Miller said. “And so she got her hands on quite a few of those. And they tried to pass backside underneath, and she just got her hands on those – and she can jump.
“And so with her playing that top of that 1-2-2 and going on the backside, we talked about how it was going to be important that she get those boards,” Miller added. “And she is just a competitor. She is not afraid to get down in there with those bigs. Heck, one time she was trying to post up.”
Phillipsburg changed offenses in the third quarter and opened with a 9-1 run, including four points from Jacobs and a 3 by Wells.
“We thought we could get some movements on both sides of the ball,” Miller said. “Our girls were getting by there, coming off ball screens, and so we wanted to create some situations there where they had to choose if they going to switch or not.”
WaKeeney, known for its pack line defense, permitted 31 points in the first win against Phillipsburg. Before Friday, the Golden Eagles allowed just 29.5 points a contest. The Panthers shot 48 percent for the game.
“The biggest thing that hurt us is our defense the start of the third quarter,” coach Shubert said. “And that was a poor job of coaching by me. I said we are going to switch ball screens. They thought I meant switch every screen, so they got two easy looks. So I will have to take the blame for that one.”
Phillipsburg led 40-30 entering the fourth. The Panthers did not make a field goal in the final quarter. WaKeeney cut the margin to 42-38 after a trey from junior Emma Day with two and a half minutes left. However, the Panthers made 5 of 6 free throws to seal the win.