Even the shiniest of cars can gather a little rust.
Like a finely-tuned vehicle, Willard's girls basketball team has raced out to a 13-2 record prior to Thursday's trip to Tiffin and nine days away from the court is almost certain to build up some rust. But when an offense isn't firing on all cylinders, a solid defense can cover up a lot of the rough spots.
Willard coach Jon Dawson admitted his offense was a bit rusty, but defense is the cornerstone of his team. And the defense played a key role in Thursday's 49-33 Northern Ohio League win over Columbian.
A focal point of the Crimson Flashes' defense was Columbian's Valesha Province, the NOL's leading scorer coming into the week, averaging 22.5 points a game. Province finished the night with 16, but was hassled all night by a Willard defense that forced 29 turnovers and limited the Tornadoes to only nine field goals on the night, two in the second half.
"A lot of this layoff stuff, it affects the offense a lot. But I think our defense is what the program's built on," Dawson said. "I thought our defense was really good for the most part. Our rotation and our communication was pretty good. I was rotating three girls in on Valesha and I thought we did a pretty good job on her, getting her frustrated. She's a good player."
Columbian finished 9 for 46 from the field (19.6 percent).
"We got open looks. I thought they executed the offense well, we just didn't make them," Columbian coach Katie Fazekas said. "When we're missing wide open shots, there's not much more we can do. We got to knock those down."
Columbian (1-15, 0-9 NOL) got an early spark from Laura Heminger with seven points in the first quarter. But the junior forward found herself in foul trouble in the second and another scorer couldn't step up to back up Province. In the final three quarters, only one Columbian field goal - Dianicia Whitman's bucket in the second - came from someone other than Province.
"They were double teaming Valesha every time she got the ball," Fazekas said. "I thought Valesha did a good job passing the ball. We got to finish. She distributed it and we didn't finish."
On the other end of the floor, Columbian's defense caused Willard its fair share of problems. The Crimson Flashes (7-1 NOL) also turned the ball over 29 times.
"I thought the defense was much improved tonight," Fazekas said. "We tried some new stuff, it worked. The kids that were asked to do new roles, I thought they bought in. And that's huge, that shows a sign of good teamwork, willing giving up something maybe you do for the team, which is huge. Amanda Schwartz gave us a big spark again coming off the bench."
The difference, though, was when Willard was getting shots off, more times than not they were going in.
The Crimson Flashes shot at a 51.2 percent clip on the night (21 for 41), including hitting on 9 of 13 first-quarter shots, including a pair of 3-pointers from Hannah Schloemer, to build their lead.
"Weathers been crazy for everybody," Dawson said. "I'm certainly not using that as an excuse, but it's been nine days since we played. It showed tonight a little bit. I didn't think we took good care of the basketball. We came out in the first quarter and hit some shots and got things going. Credit Tiffin, they did a nice job of clicking the pressure points and rotating and doing some nice things, but I just thought we were just very sloppy with the basketball."
That enabled Columbian to hang close with Willard, staying in striking range until late in the third quarter.
"Defensively we got the stops we wanted, we just couldn't convert on the offensive end to close it any closer," Fazekas said.
"Every time we would start to pull away, they would have an answer," Dawson said. "It was just one of those things, a lot of turnovers, every time we would get something going there would be a stretch of turnovers or lack of communication on defense. We just didn't do what we needed to tonight."
But there was enough of what Dawson's team needed. CeCe King scored seven of her nine points in the third quarter to give Willard an 18-point edge heading into the fourth, good enough to close out the win.
Schloemer led Willard with 12 points and Adams added 10.