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GIRLS' SWEET 16: Offense has gotten Elizabethtown off and running (03/13)

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By Nathaniel Bryan

In a state which loves its horse racing, Elizabethtown girls’ basketball coach Tim Mudd said feels like he is a trainer of a mudder. Only his Lady Panthers are more like a sprinter.

“I totally agree with his description. I believe that we are more effective when we are pushing the ball up the floor,” said Elizabethtown freshman guard Jada Stinson, whose Girls’ 5th Region Tournament champion Lady Panthers (29-4) take on the 7th Region champion Louisville Sacred Heart Valkyries (27-7) at 7:30 tonight in the first round of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament at Western Kentucky’s E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.

“I feel like he’s so right about that statement, because there’s not many ways you can coach transition offense,” added Elizabethtown junior forward Reauna Cleaver, “because there’s so many different ways to score off of it. But he’s gotten so good at knowing what our team really is.”

As a coach known for his team’s outstanding execution in half-court sets, Mudd said it’s been a challenge for him personally this season to let his team run free. He’s changed his tactics enough to allow the Lady Panthers to enter State averaging 68.7 points per game. Only Perry County Central (68.8) was better among the teams at State.

“If I had my druthers, I’d like for every game to be a transition game, but it doesn’t always work out that way because sometimes your opponents don’t cooperate. Because this team is pretty good in transition,” he said. “We are very much a transition team. Now people might not think that because I’m a half-court coach. But we have a transition and running team.”

Mudd said the team doesn’t run too many complex sets with all sorts of moving parts. Instead, many plays will have a base, which allows for variation.

“I do try to keep it as minimal as possible, but there’s not a certain number,” Mudd said of the different number of offensive plays called per game. “Like against LaRue (County) the other night, we knew they were going to play that mad dog 1-2-2, so what we tried to do was keep it simple and just put people in spots where we wanted them to score from. It’s going to vary game to game.”

If the team can’t run and get easy layups, the Lady Panthers can always slow it down.

“What we’ve gotten really good at in the postseason, I thought, is when we don’t have it in transition, let’s just punish and let’s run what we want to run,” Mudd said. “It just so happens a lot of teams weren’t able to take our transition away so we were still able to make it a transition game.”

Knowing when to slow down isn’t always easy, said Elizabethtown sophomore guard Rachel Warden.

“There’s a time to play fast and there’s a time to slow it down and run something,” Warden said. “Deciding between the two is the hard thing to do.”

The Lady Panthers have also decided to spread the wealth.

In the region final against LaRue County, junior guard Darien Huff caught fire early from the outside. Sophomore forward Erin Boley burned the Lady Hawks with mid-range jumpers and freshman forward Taylor Thomas punished them inside before Cleaver brought them home with several baskets late from close range.

When the Lady Hawks opened in a zone, the Lady Panthers took their time deciding which plays they were going to run.

Unlike football, in which teams script their first series of plays, basketball doesn’t force Elizabethtown to have a pre-conceived offensive notion.

“I think our offense is getting better because we try to move the ball and create the best shot for us to take,” Huff said. “I think we just take what they give us. If we see a mismatch, then get them the ball and exploit whatever they throw at us.”

Against LaRue County, Huff exploited LaRue County’s inability to guard the perimeter while keeping tabs on Boley and Cleaver. In the Girls’ 17th District Tournament final the prior week, Boley and Cleaver had huge nights inside.

The Lady Panthers’ backcourt is diverse, but loaded. Warden is a strong, savvy ball-handler. A little lankier, junior guard Livie Bowling can get to the rim and gives the team an added dimension being a lefty. The athletic Huff is a former three-sport athlete with soft touch. Mudd’s senior daughter Kinsey has been among the team’s top long-range threats since she entered the program. And Stinson might be the team’s fastest player with the ball, which explains her love of the transition game.

Inside, Cleaver is a NCAA Division-I recruit who continues to improve. Boley can post up when she needs to, but she is solid from the perimeter and has a turnaround jumper not many players can stop. Behind them is Thomas, who is solid from the foul line, adept at getting putbacks and can kick it out to the perimeter. Thomas would arguably be a starter on many area teams.

Further down the line, freshman forward Ramsey Deaton, eighth-grade guard Karson Knight and sophomore guard Toni Pfeiffer are all solid shooters.

“I think we have a lot of different players who can do a lot of different things,” Boley said.

Players are good about knowing their roles. Certain players will have better luck inside. Others are better from the perimeter. Some could be wide-open depending on if teams choose to double-team.

“We focus a lot on execution and getting people to positions where they will succeed,” Kinsey Mudd said. “We try to hide people’s weaknesses and with the talent we have, most of the time it’s very effective.”

Whether it’s in the open floor in a run-and-gun game or in the half-court in a grind-it-out setting, Boley said the prime objective offensively is for players to continue to play within themselves and don’t force the issue.

“We’ve talked about what players should take shots early, which players should take shots outside or inside and that kind of thing,” Boley said. “But for us, just playing a smart offense is really important for us.”

Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at 270-505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.