No. 1 Whalers near perfect in second-round win

New London's Leilani McClellan (5) puts up a shot during the first half of Thursday night's CIAC Class LL tournament game against Wilbur Cross at New London. McClellan and the Whalers won the second-round game, 79-31. (Tim Martin/The Day)
New London's Leilani McClellan (5) puts up a shot during the first half of Thursday night's CIAC Class LL tournament game against Wilbur Cross at New London. McClellan and the Whalers won the second-round game, 79-31. (Tim Martin/The Day)

New London — If you only get one chance to form a first impression, New London certainly made a lasting one Thursday night against Wilbur Cross, with the Whalers breaking out something as close to perfection in the first half as exists in high school girls' basketball.

“I told the girls yesterday: 'They're on a mission. They're not going to let up,'” Wilbur Cross coach Tyrees Thomas said of New London. “That's why they won the state title (last year). They're big and they're long and they're going to come at you.

“The first half was too much for (us).”

Top-seeded New London, which led 46-10 at halftime, beat No. 17 Wilbur Cross 79-31 in the second round of the Class LL state tournament at Conway Gymnasium and will return home again Monday for a quarterfinal matchup against No. 8 Enfield.

New London (25-0) is the defending Class LL champion, with 33 straight victories to its credit.

“In the beginning, halfway through the season, our first two quarters weren't going too well,” said New London junior Spencer Roman, who led the Whalers with 18 points and eight rebounds. "We had to focus, play well the entire game. We don't even know when we're up that much … we still play like we're down.”

In addition to Roman, who had nine points in the first quarter, when Wilbur Cross left her virtually unguarded to play a triangle-and-two defense elsewhere, Rosi Nicholson had 14 points, 19 rebounds, five assists and five steals and Tai Pagan 14 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, four steals and five blocked shots.

Xaryia Melendez added 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Whalers, who outrebounded Wilbur Cross 62-22 and added 17 steals.

It was hard to pick just one thing New London did well in the first half.

With the defense providing a base, as usual, the Whalers opened by scoring the first 12 points and continued to attack, with the ball flying from player to player in the offense with surgical precision.

At one point in the second quarter, the ball was kicked from the middle to Roman on the left baseline, who unleashed a line drive that sailed through for a 3-point field goal. Twenty-five seconds later the ball went from the middle to Nicholson on the right side, who knocked down yet another shot.

And in the final minute of the quarter, Nicholson, full speed ahead with the ball ahead on the fast break, had a player on each wing, but took it to the basket herself.

“It felt natural,” Roman said. “A lot of times when you try to force the game, things go down hill. … I've tried to let the game come to me lately.”

Roman, who has played some of her best games of the season so far in the postseason, receiving Eastern Connecticut Conference all-tournament honors, had 14 points at halftime, with Pagan, Nicholson, Melendez and Leilani McClellan almost in double figures at that point also with eight each.

Wilbur Cross (16-8) matched the Whalers more evenly in intensity in the second half, but too late.

“We have to keep playing our pace, which is fast,” Pagan said. “We just click so well. We just play an inside-outside game. Our intensity is very different.”

The quarterfinal game against Central Connecticut Conference champion Enfield is a rematch of last year's Class LL semifinal, which New London won 57-36. Enfield defeated No. 9 Notre Dame of Fairfield in the second round Thursday 46-24.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

Tai Pagan of New London (30) attempts to put up a shot against Jade Hill of Wilbur Cross (35) during the first half of the CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament game on Thursday. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Tai Pagan of New London (30) attempts to put up a shot against Jade Hill of Wilbur Cross (35) during the first half of the CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament game on Thursday. (Tim Martin/The Day)
New London's Cora Sawyer, top, battles Kayla Jefferson of Wilbur Cross for the basketball during the first half of Thursday's CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament game. (Tim Martin/The Day)
New London's Cora Sawyer, top, battles Kayla Jefferson of Wilbur Cross for the basketball during the first half of Thursday's CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament game. (Tim Martin/The Day)
New London's Spencer Roman (11) dives after a loose ball with Tynisha Thomas of Wilbur Cross, left, during the first half of a Thursday's CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament game. (Tim Martin/The Day)
New London's Spencer Roman (11) dives after a loose ball with Tynisha Thomas of Wilbur Cross, left, during the first half of a Thursday's CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament game. (Tim Martin/The Day)
April Artis of Wilbur Cross, left, fouls Tai Pagan of New London (30) during the first half of the CIAC Class LL girls' basketball state tournament game on Thursday. (Tim Martin/The Day)
April Artis of Wilbur Cross, left, fouls Tai Pagan of New London (30) during the first half of the CIAC Class LL girls' basketball state tournament game on Thursday. (Tim Martin/The Day)
New London's Xaryia Melendez, left, steals the ball from April Artis of Wilbur Cross (2) during the first half of Thursday's CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament game. (Tim Martin/The Day)
New London's Xaryia Melendez, left, steals the ball from April Artis of Wilbur Cross (2) during the first half of Thursday's CIAC Class LL girls' basketball tournament game. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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