Few this season have solved the very real problem - for her opponents, at least - of stopping Ellicottville standout Janae Hamilton.
Just the day before, in fact, after she had poured in a career-high in points against Cassadaga Valley, Hamilton's coach, Tim Bergan, floated the idea that maybe there wasn't an answer to the puzzle at all.
Well, Mel Swanson may have finally cracked the equation. Unfortunately, for squads looking to mimic the formula, the variables at his disposal aren't available to most.
Sherman’s Bridget Yaw (23) brings the ball up the court as Ellicottville’s Cam Musall applies defensive pressure. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Take one of the best in the area (Elle Reed), add a stout and aggressive defense under the hoop (making for Hamilton each journey into the paint a weary one) and multiply that by a few clutch baskets at key moments by teammates like Bridget Yaw, Julia Rater, Katrina Christmas and Danielle Reed (and others) and it all equals ... victory.
That was the way Swanson's Lady Wildcats captured the Jock Shop Holiday Shootout on Friday, anyway.
Reed knocked down a game-high 36 points, falling just shy of tying her own school record of 38, to go along with 13 rebounds, eight steals and six assists; Danielle Reed and Samantha Delcamp (among others) made life hectic for Hamilton down low by both fronting and backing her; Yaw chipped in nine points; Rater four points and seven rebounds; and Christmas swished a crucial 12-foot jumper late in the third that captured for Sherman the lead for the last time and the Lady Wildcats defeated Ellicottville, 54-48.
"Elle just works hard for 32 minutes, I think that's the key for her," Swanson said of his tournament MVP. "As long as she can get the ball in her hands and get a couple of steps, she's going to score.
The senior point guard scored all possible ways on the court at Jamestown Community College, making it difficult for Ellicottville to pinpoint the best way to defend. She kept her game on the perimeter in the first half, hitting five triples and scoring 19 points along the way before deciding to be more aggressive in the second half and take the ball to the hoop, tallying 17 points on a trio of two-pointers and eight free throws.
"She has a great stop move," Bergan said. "She gets you back on your heels because she can dribble-penetrate and hit the floater. What that does is that when she's pushing the ball it makes (defenders) drop step, and when she sees that you've dropped too far, she stops on a dime and goes up for the jumper."
Hamilton, on the other hand, was held to a season-low 18 points. In the first quarter the 6-foot-1 senior was doubled in the paint and held to just five points. Over the next three quarters she was moved away from the hoop, beyond the 3-point arc, which opened her up for shots from distance (she made a pair of triples) but the move also, in effect, abdicated Ellicottville's strength (size and rebounding) to the smaller Sherman players.
"I was really pleased with the kids' defense," Swanson said. "Samantha Delcamp and Danielle got a real workout defensively, and (that was good) once (Hamilton) moved to the outside because she is normally so tough on the boards."
After holding a slim lead at the end of the first quarter, 16-14, Ellicottville, behind a pair of treys by post player Ashley Wilson (nine points, five rebounds) and a last-minute layup by Madison Szpaicher (17 points, 15 rebounds), took a 27-26 advantage into the locker room.
In the third period the Lady Eagles led by one, 37-36, with less than three minutes remaining before Reed hit a free throw to tie it. Then Christmas connected on her jumper for the two-point advantage, which soon grew to four heading into the fourth behind two more Reed free throws.
"Julia came up big in the first half and Katrina and Danielle and Bridget hit a couple of big shots," Swanson said. "I talk to the kids a lot and I say, 'You don't always have to look to Elle, if you've got that clean look yourself, take it.' They took a couple (tonight) and that's all we need. If a couple of other people step up and get some points, then Elle is going to get more shots, too."
That lead ballooned to 11 with four minutes left in the final quarter, 50-39, and Sherman withstood a 9-4 run over the final three minutes to clinch the victory.
NOTES: Along with Elle Reed, Danielle Reed and Hamilton were named to the all-tournament team.
Wilson 3 1 9, Szpaicher 5 4 17, J. Hamilton 6 4 18, Musall 1 0 2, M. Hamilton 1 0 2. Totals 16 9 48.
E. Reed 10 10 36, Rater 2 0 4, Yaw 3 2 9, D. Reed 1 0 3, Christmas 1 0 2.
3-point goals: Wilson 2, Szpaicher 3, Hamilton 2, E. Reed 6, Yaw, D. Reed.
Ellicottville14 13 10 11 - 48
Sherman16 10 15 13 - 54