GREENFIELD — Doug Laker had a restless sleep Friday morning.
Racking his brain over the Greenfield-Central Cougars’ much-anticipated game with New Castle later that night for supremacy in the Hoosier Heritage Conference standings, the head coach had an idea.
And it paid off for the Cougars — 15 hours later.
“I woke up about three o’clock this morning, and I changed the matchups,” Laker explained. “I decided I was going to put Madison (Wise) on (Laura) Thomas and Katie (Helgason) on (Samantha) Underwood.
“That’s their two best players, and I wanted Madison and Katie to challenge them with their tenacity.”
Laker’s junior tandem put his mind as ease as the role reversal from last year’s defensive assignments helped the Cougars (15-4, 5-0) remain unbeaten in the HHC with a 50-39 victory on Coaches vs. Cancer Hoops for a Cure Night.
Finding her rhythm from Greenfield-Central’s stout man-to-man defense, Helgason scored a team-high 18 points with four steals. Wise followed suit with 15 points, seven rebounds and a pair of steals.
The duo held Thomas and Underwood to a combined 24 points. New Castle’s top scorers were averaging a total of 30 this season, and Thomas, a Northern Kentucky recruit was just two games removed from a single-game record 43 points against Blackford.
Underwood had scored 33 points twice this season and buried a school-record 11 3-pointers against HHC foe Shelbyville on Dec. 11.
Not this time.
The Cougars’ defense stymied the Trojans (16-2, 5-1) to 28 percent shooting and 2 of 14 from 3-point range, with Greenfield-Central building leads of 10 twice through the first 17 minutes.
No. 20 Greenfield-Central called on its defense in its past two games, helping the Cougars knock off No. 10 Westfield 48-40 last weekend at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and No. 9 Plainfield 40-36 on Tuesday night at home.
“Last week, someone asked me how we were going to get prepared for Westfield (last Saturday)? I said, we’re really not getting ready for Westfield, we’re getting ready for the second half of the streak of the season,” Laker said. “We’re not scheming anything up; we’re just doing the basic fundamentals.”
Focused on each possession, the Cougars maximized their opportunities, shooting 43 percent from the field — 43 percent from 3-point range (6 of 14) — to halt New Castle’s 14-game winning streak.
Helgason poured in 11 points before halftime, draining her first three treys, while Wise and Jessica Farrell cleaned the glass with seven and five rebounds, respectively.
“The past three games have been huge. The team has really stepped up and played great together,” Wise said. “Tuesday night against Plainfield, we found a way to win and that’s only because we play such a tough schedule. It’s been helping us finish games like tonight.”
Led by Thomas, who had a game-high 21 points, the Trojans put together an 11-2 run to cut the Cougars’ lead to two points heading into the fourth quarter.
Greenfield-Central didn’t buckle, though.
Instead, Wise found Farrrell inside the paint for a quick two points to increase the lead 39-35 with 4:41 left on the clock.
Helgason later snagged another steal for a transition layup with 1:51 remaining and a 41-35 margin as the Cougars went 7 of 10 from the free-throw line to seal it.
“Our offense hasn’t really been flowing lately, so we’ve been more reliant on our defense and it helped out tonight,” Helgason said. “Our losses have taught us to be more patient on offense and how important defense is to our success. We’ve learned from our mistakes.”