COLUMBIA — Wide eyes and quick hands follow the ball, and the players shift their stance to smother the ball. During Thursday's practice, it becomes clear that the Rock Bridge girls basketball team puts an emphasis on defense.
“Defense is the foundation of what we do,” Bruins coach Jill Nagel said. “We’re looking for our defense to be the key component this weekend.”
The Bruins have learned that their strong suit doesn't fail. When shots weren't falling Wednesday in Rock Bridge's 34-30 sectional victory over Jefferson City, the Bruins relied on their defense.
But Rock Bridge (24-4) will be facing another strong defensive team when they meet 22-5 Kickapoo at 1 p.m. Saturday in a Class 5 state quarterfinal game in Rolla. The Chiefs, on a 12-game winning streak, are also solid from 3-point range with multiple players to test the Bruins' defense, according to Nagel.
It should be an interesting contest because Rock Bridge, led in steals by Amaya Williams at 2.5 per game, has also found some depth when it comes to 3-point shooters.
The Bruins Megan Marshall stepped up big at the end of Wednesday’s game. She struggled early, but had two 3-pointers and a free throw entering the last two minutes of play.
“We took great shots and created excellent opportunities, it’s just that our shots weren’t falling,” Nagel said.
Then, with the clock winding down, Marshall made the crucial basket with a final 3-pointer.
“It was an ice in her veins situation that was huge for us,” Nagel said.
Marshall, who began the season averaging 4.5 points per game, scored 12 points against Jefferson City. She has become a weapon from long range, hitting three 3-pointers in three of her past four games.
“Hopefully we’ll be offensively sharper than last game," Nagel said. "But if our defense is consistent, we’ll have a chance to win no matter what our offense looks like.”