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Staying out of foul trouble key as West Mifflin opens state playoffs

| Thursday, March 6, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
West Mifflin's Ciara Patterson (5) shoots against Ringgold's Bailey Cooper (23) and Kara Foster (3) during the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, at Peters Township.

West Mifflin's decided advantage in athleticism worked against the Titans in their WPIAL Class AAA girls basketball semifinal loss to eventual champion Blackhawk, and Titans coach Scott Stephenson was hoping his overzealous players can settle down in time for their PIAA first-round game Saturday against Villa Maria Academy at Penn Hills.

“They have a long history of winning,” Stevenson said of Villa Maria, an Erie-based school playing in its second season in Class AAA. “It's going to be a tough one for us, and we can't be looking ahead to any kind of rematch with Blackhawk.”

Villa Maria (21-3), formerly a Class AA power, lost to undefeated Hickory, 39-24, in the District 10 Class AAA championship Saturday, wasting a seven-point halftime lead after going scoreless for the first 11:39 of the second half. Hickory outscored Villa Maria, 16-0, in the third quarter to pull ahead.

At West Mifflin, Stevenson was dealing with his team's own problems in the WPIAL semifinal.

West Mifflin (18-6) appeared to be on its way to a victory over Blackhawk and a trip to the finals, but the overaggressive Titans stumbled in the second half and dropped a 68-57 decision, in part, when their two leading scorers, guard Ciara Patterson and forward Taylor Thomas, encountered foul trouble.

They were among three West Mifflin players to foul out in the fourth quarter.

“I thought our girls laid it on the line. I have no problem at all with their effort,” Stephenson said. “It's just that we couldn't control the fouls. We'd go for steals and stuff like that — that's just how we play. Instead of moving our feet, though, we were using our hands and swiping at the ball.”

Villa Maria was victimized by Hickory's full-court press — particularly in the second half — and senior Nikki Arbanas, a Youngstown State recruit who finished with 14 points and four steals.

Much like the performance of Blackhawk star and Duquesne recruit Chassidy Omogrosso, whose 31-point effort against West Mifflin included 26 free throws, Arbanas frequently was able to get to the free-throw line, where she made all 10 attempts.

West Mifflin hopes to offer a similar problem to Villa Maria in the form of Patterson, the Titans' slick point guard who is headed to Wright State. She was held to eight points in the loss to Blackhawk, sitting for long stretches with foul trouble.

“She got those two fouls in the first quarter and her third early in the third,” Stephenson said. “That hurt us.”

Meanwhile, Stephenson praised the defense of junior guard Jiahna Flood-Francis, who held high-scoring Omogrosso to seven first-half points.

When West Mifflin encountered foul trouble, Stephenson switched to a 3-2 zone defense from man-to-man, and Blackhawk was able to rally.

“Our zone has been good to us,” he said.

Not so much in their most recent test. Blackhawk took advantage and took control.

The switch in defense “got us out of what we were doing well in the man-to-man,” Stevenson said.

“We had been doing a heck of a job contesting their shots, but in the second half, we let them get into a comfort zone. They hit some shots, some deep 3s — and that's what they do.”

West Mifflin led Blackhawk, 42-30, early in the third quarter before falling apart.

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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