Defense enables Lady Buffs to dispose of Wise

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   The lack of it almost put the Milligan Lady Buffs behind at halftime.
   The success of it in the second half helped the same team roll to an easy win.
   It was defense.
   After allowing UVA-Wise to shoot 61 percent from the field in the first half, the Lady Cavaliers shot just 33 percent in the second half as Milligan took a 79-63 victory Thursday night at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse.
   "First half we didn't play defense at all," Milligan forward Amanda Hammons said. "Give them credit, they made some good points, but we didn't play defense like we had been. He told us at halftime that we were going to have to step up and start playing. We still didn't get quite where we wanted to be, but we definitely improved in the second half."
   Despite giving up the astounding field goal percentage in the first half, Milligan was still ahead 44-41 at the intermission thanks to a 17-of-32 effort from the field of its own.
   "At one point I looked up at the score, and I didn't realize the score was what it was," Hammons said. "We were up by three. They were just making everything."
   The Lady Cavs' hot shooting came to a quick halt after the break.
   The turning point might have been when Milligan was ahead 54-52 with about 13 minutes left in regulation. That's when Kari Stout came up with a big steal and a layup to give the Lady Buffs a four-point edge.
   That fired the team and the fans up, as Milligan held UVA-Wise to one field goal in the next five minutes.
   Milligan's 12-3 spurt during those five minutes gave the Lady Buffs a commanding 66-55 edge.
   "We got into a press in the second half, and that really turned up our intensity," Hammons said. "That got us going, and that's when Kari got her steal. That's when things did start moving.
   The Lady Buffs put the exclamation point on the contest when Hammons made a big steal of her own, and then hit the bucket to put Milligan ahead 77-63 with 2:18 to go.
   "I think our press made a difference," Milligan head coach Rich Aubrey said. "I think pressing got them out of their rhythm, and of course it forced some turnovers. My sense was that in the half-court, there were still good shots for them there, but maybe by pressing them we tired them out to the point where they didn't execute as well as they did in the first half.
   "All in all except for our press I wasn't very pleased with our defense tonight. I didn't think we played as well as we're capable of. That's something we have to improve on."
   Despite not being extremely pleased, Aubrey was happy with the second-half effort.
   "We did what we had to do to win," he said. "A lot of that was on the defensive end, no question about it. To give up 41 in the first half, then come back and give up 22 in the second half, you're doing something right. We executed pretty well on offense. I thought when we had to have baskets, we got good shots and made them go in the basket."
   Stout led all scorers with 23 points, while Hammons poured in 16 points and nine rebounds for Milligan.
   Brooke Hardy topped UVA-Wise with 18 points.
   The Lady Buffs, winners of eight of their last ten, improve to 11-7 in conference play and 14-12 overall.
   LADY BUFFS NOTES
   * Tuesday night in a win over Montreat, Milligan's Vera Conkin surpassed the 1,000 point mark for her career. Conkin was honored in a ceremony after Thursday's contest.