|Bluebirds Earn Signature Region Win|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior forward Rory O'Hara (35) looks to put up a shot against Conner on Monday. O'Hara scored 11 points in the 45-35 Highland win.|
The Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team (8-4 overall) sought its first signature 9th Region win this season.
Highlands earned it with a 45-35 win over the visiting Conner Lady Cougars (6-5) Monday. The Bluebirds moved to 5-3 in region play. Conner has eliminated Highlands in the 9th Region quarterfinals two of the past three seasons.
"We watched film on Saturday just to see what we needed to do to get better," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "They took the things that we saw on film and did better (Monday) in the game."
Highlands senior forward Kelsey Listerman hit a three-pointer just before halftime to put the Bluebirds up 24-17 and Highlands never gave up the lead. Listerman made 7-of-9 shots including 2-of-3 three-point tries on her way to 19 points to go with nine rebounds and two steals.
Listerman made a crucial three with 2:17 left in the third quarter after Conner cut the margin to three points. Highlands led 32-26 at that point. Senior guard Emma Mallery made two free throws and a three pointer with 1:06 left in the quarter to put the Bluebirds up 37-28.
Highlands again primarily used a six-player rotation with senior guard Kate Vaught and junior center CC Shick still unable to play. Freshman guard Laney Smith saw some action in the first half. Senior forward Rory O'Hara scored 11 points for the Bluebirds.
Down the stretch, Listerman and sophomore point guard Alyssa Harris made critical buckets and free throws. Harris found herself open inside the right wing with 2:50 left in the game and made a critical jumper to put Highlands up 41-33.
Highlands made 14-of-29 shots for 48 percent including 6-of-14 three-point tries for 43 percent and 11-of-16 free throws for 69 percent. The Bluebirds also had 22 rebounds, nine personal fouls, 11 turnovers, five assists and three steals. Highlands did well when it did not try to force things offensively, especially when Conner ran the half-court traps at the end of the game.
"They took the shot when it was open," Richey said. "That was stuff we preached about in practice. There is still growth because we've talked about when a team traps, you can't go hide in the corner and jump up and down. You have to come back to the ball. Those are things we're going to continue to improve on."
Junior guard Meg Gessner and senior forward Emma Riccobene had their roles in defending Conner's staple offense that involved a lot of weaving. The Lady Cougars are more guard-oriented this season led by senior guard Ellie Smith and freshman guard Anna Hamilton.
"They definitely like to do a lot of hand-off plays and fake the hand-off, which we were aware of going into the game," O'Hara said. "That really helped because we didn't really get beat on those plays. We were able when they caught the ball on the high post because that's where they run those plays."
Smith scored 11 and Hamilton had 10. Conner made 14-of-35 shots for 40 percent including 4-of-14 from three-point range for 29 percent and 3-of-6 free throws for 50 percent. The Lady Cougars also had 10 rebounds, 14 personal fouls, six turnovers and three assists.
The Bluebirds started off the game better leading 10-9 after the first quarter. They scored just one point in the first quarter in the 36-33 home loss to Dixie Heights on Friday.
"Our second half in the Dixie game was good. We came out knowing the whole 32 minutes had to be good for this game," Mallery said. "We knew we had to keep pushing in the first half then take that into the second half."
Highlands continues its stretch of eight straight home games with another region game against Covington Holy Cross (3-1) on Thursday. Game time is 6 p.m.