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The shots were falling for the North Branford girls' basketball team as it picked up its fifth win of the season with a 54-50 victory over Valley Regional on Feb. 10.
Valley looked to be in control of the game for much of the first half as it was getting rebounds, running a fluid offense, and had its triangle-and-two defense working on North Branford's Sabrina LeMere and Justine Johnson. In the second quarter, the T-Birds' duo was limited to just two points, allowing the Warriors to take a 27-22 lead into the half.
"Sometimes, they're a little timid about shooting. We know that they're good shooters," said Head Coach Chris Webster. "We were just trying to get them open and not afraid to shoot."
After Webster's squad was down by five points at the half, her shooters came out firing as LeMere and Johnson combined for 21 points in the second half.
"My teammates are really good passers and they looked for the open player so it worked well for us," Johnson said. "We had to use a lot of cuts and we had to look for the open man and do a lot of ball movement."
Johnson finished with 16 points, giving Webster reason to believe that her second offensive threat is back on track.
"The last game she only had two points," Webster said. "So we try to tell the kids that we need to do things that we can do well and we want to be consistent."
The strategy of moving the ball and cutting through Valley's zone worked early in the third quarter as LeMere, Johnson, and Gabby Augur each hit a three-pointer on the Thunderbirds' first three possessions of the quarter to tighten the gap. The ball movement aided North Branford's chemistry as it recorded 16 assists in the game. LeMere led the charge with seven, Augur had five, and Johnson handed out three.
"Considering they were in a 2-3 zone, we needed to pass it and rotate the ball," said LeMere, who finished with a game-high 20 points. "We were able to get the opportunities to shoot and get our shots off and they went in."
North Branford (5-12) hit seven triples in the game and took control in the third quarter by getting Valley (3-13) out of its comfort zone. Defensively, the Warriors collapsed down low when Valley tried getting the ball inside to center Kiernan Decker, forcing her to work the ball back outside to the perimeter. As a result, she was held to just eight points.
"I think we did a much better job on Decker than the first time [when she scored 19 points as Valley beat North Branford 53-36 on Jan. 17]," Webster said. "She killed us the first time."
With North Branford holding a 49-48 lead late in the fourth quarter, LeMere stole the ball around midcourt and went in for a layup to increase the T-Birds' lead. She was fouled at the 1:22 mark by Emily Fuentes on what the refs called an intentional foul. Although LeMere missed both free throws, the T-Birds got the ball back and pushed their lead to three on a made field goal by LeMere. LeMere and Kyeana Martone made free throws down the stretch to help close out the victory as North Branford looked quite comfortable maintaining possession and running out the clock late in the game en route to its fifth win of the campaign.