Seeking to avoid a letdown after Tuesday's win over FCIAC leader Danbury, the Westhill High girls basketball team encountered an opponent determined to make the Vikings work for every basket.
After taking nearly three quarters to adjust, Westhill generated just enough offense to pull away and extend its impressive winning streak to 13 games.
Meg D'Alessandro poured in 18 points as Westhill erupted for 16 third-quarter points en route to a 42-32 victory over Staples on Thursday evening.
"We're used to getting the ball and running up the court, playing a fast-paced game, but (Staples) slowed it down every time they had the ball," D'Alessandro said. "They made a lot of passes on every possession; towards the end we started to get it and pressure them. It became a little easier for us and that's when we were able to pull away."
Despite not making the FCIAC playoffs a year ago, the Vikings are charging towards the postseason on a tear. They showed the fight needed to pull out a low-scoring affair, even if there was a disparity in energy between contests.
"Yea, absolutely," Westhill coach Mike King said when asked about the possibility of a letdown. "I think it's impossible to match the intensity and focus from the other night playing in front of a crowd of 500 people. We were just a little bit sloppy with our passing, but we made enough plays to win."
The Vikings went on a 12-0 run late in the third quarter, breaking a 21-21 tie to put the game away. In the space of 12 seconds, Tyler Evans (11 points) converted a 3-point play and a layup, and Steph Roones sank a 3-pointer to break down the Wreckers.
"We can definitely score a lot of points in a very short amount of time, but we are also at fault for taking a long time to score," D'Alessandro said. "It's not ideal but we don't panic when we go a while without scoring because we know we can have those offensive explosions."
A bright spot for Staples was Abby Lustig. The sophomore guard scored 12 points, while displaying the ability to knock down open shots. Lustig and senior guard Nikki Bukovsky (14 points) accounted for nearly all of the Wreckers' offensive output.
"She's been in the starting lineup for about seven or eight games and she's averaging double figures," Staples coach Ed Huydic said. "She's definitely a budding star; it's really good to see the maturation of a player right before our eyes."
Lustig's free throws cut Westhill's lead to 36-30 with less than three minutes left, but after Staples missed the front end of a one-and-one Evans quickly scored two layups to re-establish a comfortable lead.
The Wreckers managed to control the pace for the majority of the evening, but crucial momentary lapses costed them dearly.
"The plan was to definitely control the tempo," Huydic said. "We wanted to have good quality possessions and stay as mistake-free as we could. The game got away from us when we made a number of mistakes, which gave (Westhill) some good momentum."
Staples fell to 6-12 overall and must win its final two games -- at home against Greenwich and Trumbull -- to continue its string of 28 straight state playoff appearances.
The Vikings have games with New Canaan and Trinity Catholic remaining on the regular-season schedule and will look to keep up the momentum going before the FCIAC playoffs begin next weekend.
"We've shown we can hang with the best teams in the league and whatever is thrown at us we can take it and run with it, changing our game to adapt," D'Alessandro said. "We still have a lot of work to do to keep getting better."
Ryan Lacey is a freelance writer
Westhill 42, Staples 32
STAPLES 6 11 8 7--32
WESTHILL 8 9 16 9--42
STAPLES (6-12, 6-10 FCIAC)
Margaret Fair 0 0-0 0 Allison April 0 2-3 2 Abigail Lustig 5 2-3 12 Maddie Schemel 2 0-2 4 Nicole Bukovsky 5 2-3 14 Kelsey Bobrow 0 0-0 0 Sophie DeBruijn 0 0-0 0 Erica Stein 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 6-11 32.
WESTHILL (16-2, 14-2)
Steph Roones 4 0-0 9; Kat Grasso 0 0-0 0; Meg D'Alessandro 5 8-9 18; Tyler Evans 5 1-2 11; Jackie Paasman 2 0-0 4; Edona Thaqi 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 9-11 42.
3-pointers: S--Bukovsky 2; W--Roones.