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Defense the key as Wildcats cool off New London
New London - Maya Bell points out that the majority of the Norwich Free Academy girls' basketball staff members are math teachers who enjoy the complexities of the game, especially on defense.
"That's all we do is go over schematics of the game," said Bell, an NFA junior guard. "It's quite interesting. Sometimes their thoughts get all jumbled up. They're math teachers; they all think on their feet."
It was NFA's defense, and Bell, which keyed a 48-36 victory over New London on Friday night in a matchup between two of the top teams in the Eastern Connecticut Conference.
The fifth-seeded Wildcats, coming off a loss to Ledyard earlier in the week which allowed Ledyard to share the ECC Large Division title with NFA, led 18-1 before New London made a basket.
The Whalers (16-3) cut the lead to single digits briefly at the start of the second quarter, getting to within 18-11 on a basket by Charee Osborne, but NFA answered with nine straight points, including 3-point field goals by Cebria Outlow and Hailey Conley.
Alyssa Velles had 12 points for NFA (17-2) and Bell 11. New London's Lexus Childs-Harris, celebrating Senior Night, had a game-high 17 points, including the team's only two 3-pointers, and 10 rebounds. India Pagan added 12 for the Whalers and Osborne also had 10 rebounds.
NFA coach Bill Scarlata said the defense was a basic 3-2 zone ... with a few tweaks thrown in.
He's just happy his team came out with intensity against New London, something he said the Wildcats lacked in Tuesday's 58-46 loss to Ledyard. It was the first loss to the Colonels in 21 years.
Scarlata called it a "lack of focus" by his team and said he could see the loss coming.
"When you play lousy and you win, you reinforce bad ideas," Scarlata said. "(Against New London), we showed some intensity early. We still don't know how to play when we're ahead, but we're working on it."
"It was a heartbreaker," Bell said of the loss to Ledyard. "No one was beating themselves up or anything, we just wanted to work harder. It was the kick in the butt we needed. Practice was intense. We just wanted to come in this game and show that we are still the best team."
Bell's steal and layup made it 6-0 for NFA just 1 minute, 5 seconds into the game and Outlow (9 points) followed with a pair of baskets.
Velles had a steal and a layup to make it 12-0 and, following a free throw by Childs-Harris to get New London on the board, Velles stole a Whalers inbounds pass and took it the length of the court for a 14-1 lead. Mackenzie Burke scored and Bell hit two free throws for the 18-1 advantage.
New London honored seniors Childs-Harris, Benisha Obas and Tamia DeBarros-Cannon prior to the game and all three drew starting assignments. It was the Whalers' first loss to a team from the ECC, losing twice previously to No. 7 Weaver.
"It's a great team, a great defense," New London coach Kerrianne Dugan said of NFA. "It didn't help that we couldn't hit the ocean from the beach. It was awful, but it happens. It's senior night and that's not an excuse, but there's a lot going on. It's tough when you start like that. It's hard to dig out of that.
"I'm glad we played them. Going into tournament, we have to be tip-top. I think it's going to be a good learning experience."
The ECC tournament begins next Thursday.