GREENFIELD — Timing and pressure were the focus for the Greenfield-Central Cougars, and both were clicking from the opening tip on Tuesday night.
Blanketing the visiting Connersville Spartans with their revitalized half- and full-court presses, the Cougars stormed out to a double-digit lead and never relinquished, winning 44-29.
“We wanted to pick up our defensive intensity, and with Katie (Helgason) back, it changes our concept on how we want to play some things,” Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker said. “She’s a difference maker, and you can see that.”
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The Class 4A Cougars’ defense came out relentless, forcing seven turnovers and recording four steals through the first four and a half minutes.
Greenfield-Central pounced on its potential Sectional 9 foe with traps and shut down nearly every passing lane while finding their own rhythm offensively.
“In the first quarter, we were flowing really well. The first quarter was our best quarter,” Helgason said. “Everything felt right.”
The Cougars opened with a 15-0 run led by Iowa State recruit Madison Wise, who finished with a game-high 25 points and 11 rebounds. She added a blocked shot, three steals and three assists.
The 6-foot-1 senior scored 10 points in the first quarter and had 14 by halftime as the Cougars’ lead hovered at 11 points.
While held scoreless, Helgason, a Ball State recruit, dished out a pair of assists and had three steals. The Cougars pressured the Spartans (7-7) into 11 first-quarter turnovers and 16 in the first half.
“Our defense is getting there. Obviously, in the beginning of the season it wasn’t very good, we were giving up way too many points, but it’s slowly getting there,” Wise said. “I wouldn’t say it’s perfect by any means, but it’s getting better.”
Greenfield-Central entered the game averaging 50.1 points scored per game and allowing 52.6. Through the Cougars’ first 10 games, their opponents — including four state-ranked teams — surpassed 50 points eight times and 60-plus four times.
In Helgason’s second game back following an ACL tear this past August, the senior point guard stabilized the Cougars’ back court and allowed them to increase the tempo, which plays into their strengths.
“Knowing we’re athletic and fast enough to push the ball up the court, especially against teams that don’t like the pressure, is key to our offense,” Wise said.
Greenfield-Central’s lead reached its peak in the third quarter at 25 points — twice. A pair of Morganne Denny free throws put the Cougars up 39-14 with 30.6 seconds left in the quarter. A buzzer-beating putback shot by Wise pushed the Cougars’ advantage to 41-16.
The Spartans, who were led by Mikalia Taylor with 10 points, opened the game scoreless for six-plus minutes and held without a field goal attempt the first four minutes.
In the third quarter, they scored two points on a pair of free throws by Taylor, which didn’t fall through until 10.7 seconds remained in the frame.
Hannah Farrell finished with eight points, five rebounds and four assists for the Cougars. Brittany Wheeler had four points, six rebounds and two steals as the Cougars now sit at .500 on the season with a 6-6 record.
“We’re just trying to get some wins right now, play as a team and play together,” Wise said. “I think our ball movement really created opportunities. We had great ball movement, especially towards the start of the game.”
Up next, the Cougars host the two-day, eight-team Laker Farm Implement/Riley Park Tire Tournament, beginning on Thursday. Greenfield-Central opens against another potential sectional opponent in Richmond (1-9) at 10 a.m.