They knew it would be a tough night. Those girls from Yutan play stingy defense and like to play keep away. Points are hard to come by. But those Malcolm girls also like to turn up the heat on defense. So it came as no surprise that it was a low-scoring affair when the Clippers picked up a 34-22 win Jan. 30 in Malcolm.
Just 48 hours after the Clippers put up eight points in the first minute of their game at Johnson County Central, it took the whole first quarter to match that total against the Chieftains. Malcolm led 8-6 after the opening frame.
“It was pretty clear from the start that they were trying to shorten the game,” Malcolm head coach Andy Klepper said. “Their first possession took almost two minutes off the clock.”
The Clippers had the ball just eight times in the first quarter.
“We didn’t get many points, but we also didn’t get very many chances,” Klepper said.
Yutan stuck with its man defense and took advantage of its size on the perimeter to make it hard for the Malcolm guards to get the ball inside.
“They were giving us the pick and roll off the wing,” Klepper said. “But our short guards couldn’t get a good angle to get the pass over the top.”
The Clippers’ primary ball handlers – Alyssa Fortik and Joslyn Small – are listed at 5-1 and 5-2 respectively.
Yutan came out of the halftime break trailing by a point. They quickly took the lead with a three-pointer in the opening seconds of the second half. It was the only basket the Chieftains made in the quarter.
“We knew we couldn’t panic when they made that shot,” Klepper said. “We got the lead back and then let them dictate the pace because we didn’t want to extend our defense and have their guards driving inside on us.”
With the Clippers leading by three heading to the fourth quarter, Yutan picked up the pace. That created opportunities for Malcolm to get the ball and add to its lead.
“They sped things up and that helped us,” Klepper said. “We turned them over quite a few times late in the game and converted those turnovers into points.”
Fortik led Malcolm with 15 points. She was one of three freshmen to combine for 28 of the Clippers’ 34 points.
“Yes, they’re freshmen,” Klepper said of Fortik, Emma Brown and Diamond Sedlak. “But at this point in the season, we don’t really look at what grade they’re in.
“These girls are getting a lot of court time, and we expect them to contribute like experienced players.”
Against Johnson County Central, the Clippers used a 20-0 run to open the game and sprint to a 72-42 victory over the Thunderbirds.
Fortik was one of three Malcolm players in double figures as she scored 22 points while dishing out four assists and nabbing eight steals. Brown and Small each added 14 points.
Malcolm (15-3) takes a seven-game win streak into the East Central Nebraska Conference tournament. The No. 3 seed Clippers will host the winner of Auburn (7-10) against Conestoga (3-14) on Feb. 4. A win sets up a possible rematch with No. 2 seed Yutan (12-5) on Friday, Feb. 7. Weeping Water (18-1) is the top seed. The championship game is Saturday night on the Lincoln campus of Southeast Community College.