Naples takes first round of north-south battle
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 12, 2014
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — The Naples and Aviano girls basketball teams aren’t going to beat many teams this season with their offenses. The boys teams from the two schools might be able to simply outscore their opponents — if they master a few key elements of the game.
The Wildcats earned a sweep of Friday night’s contests, though they were close enough that a reversal on Saturday wouldn’t be surprising.
Naples 29, Aviano 27, OT: Jessica Wheeler filled the stat sheet for Naples, but it was her 20th rebound of the game — and the put-back basket that followed — that made the difference in overtime.
Wheeler, a 5-foot-11 senior, did just about everything for the Wildcats — especially after star guard Keylee Soto hurt her knee with 30 seconds left in regulation and didn’t return. It’s unclear whether Soto will play Saturday.
“That was scary,” Wheeler said. “But it was fun to see that we could pull together as a team and win after she went out.”
Wheeler was a big reason for that. She finished with 11 points, eight steals and a pair of blocks and helped the Wildcats control the boards for much of the game.
“She’s tough,” Naples coach Tim Smith said.
No arguments from Aviano coach Laura Corder.
“They had to have four rebounds for everyone we did. Maybe six,” she said. “So we now know what we have to work on.”
Both teams played tough defense, with vastly different styles. The Saints played Corder’s trademark swarming man-to-man, harassing Naples into an array of turnovers.
“It was like a wall,” Wheeler said. “You turned around, and they were in your face.”
Naples countered with a “tightly packed” zone defense that Corder said didn’t let the Saints have anything inside.
Only three Wildcats scored. Soto had 10 points and Angelica Sheils added eight, including a basket with 7 seconds left that forced overtime.
Jazmine Bell had 10 points, six rebounds and six steals for Aviano.
Neither team led by more than six throughout the game.
Naples 63, Aviano 53: The game appeared to be over by halftime, but the Saints cut the lead to five points in the final minutes.
The Wildcats’ best strategy of the night might have been fouling the Saints. Aviano connected on only seven of 22 free-throw attempts, an effort that coach Curtis Harris termed “horrible. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
He wasn’t sure how else to characterize his team’s second quarter, either. Naples turned an 18-12 first-quarter advantage into a 35-18 halftime lead.
So the game was over, right?
“That’s exactly what the team thought,” Wildcats coach Craig Lord said. “We came out in the third quarter without any energy. And (Aviano) had plenty of it.”
Aviano connected several times from long range in the period but also got its inside game going. Center Dundrey Peoples scored all 10 of his points in the second half, and Chase Cottingham added two more buckets from close range.
Aviano cut the deficit to nine points midway through the third, but Naples reserve Stephen Nowell scored three consecutive baskets to blunt the rally. The Saints rallied again in the fourth and trailed 56-51 with 1 minute, 22 seconds to play on Cottingham’s basket.
But Aviano got no closer.
Sophomore KC Evans carried the load for the Wildcats in the opening half and finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Ty’Rick Riggins equaled those numbers, with much of his totals coming in the second half.