The State College girls’ basketball team exploited its size and strength inside Wednesday evening.
Behind a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound effort from Taylor Love, the Lady Little Lions built a big lead and held off a furious fourth-quarter comeback by Burrell for a 51-44 win in the Kiwanis Holiday Classic.
“I thought we played well,” said Love, whose previous career high was 13 points. “We moved it around well, got a lot of different opportunities.”
State College (3-2) will meet Northampton in the championship game at 7 p.m. Thursday. Northampton beat North Schuylkill 64-58 in the first game of the day.
The Lady Little Lions also got nine points each from Denaya Poston and Lexi Risha, with Poston also pulling down six rebounds, while Kelsey Love handed out four assists, a couple to her sister as the pair worked some pick-and-rolls to set up buckets.
“I guess we kind of know where each other is,” Taylor Love said. “We can read each other.”
Consistent shooting helped the State College cause as the team hit 21 of 46 shots (46 percent) from the floor, many of them from within five feet of the basket.
“Our plan was to pound it inside,” said State College assistant coach Jamie Brennan, filling in for head coach Chris Leazier, who was out of town. “We knew that we had the advantage as far as height and strength with Taylor and Selena (Mann) down low. We’ve got to get better at rebounding.”
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, were a much chillier 16 for 51 (32 percent), with only three girls getting into the scorebook. Brooke Smith’s 20 points led the way, followed by Eliza Oswalt’s 15 points and Kaylee Sharrow’s nine.
“We wanted to come out and play defense aggressively,” Brennan said. “We tend to do that pretty well. We play a fast-paced game, so we like to play at our pace.”
The Lady Little Lions took off on an 11-0 run to close the first half.
It began with a Risha 3-pointer and was followed by a Maya Bokunewicz steal and layup, put-back buckets for Poston and Taylor Love and Bokunewicz setting up Taylor Love for a layup and a 26-14 lead.
“Once we get going, push the ball up the floor, I think that gets the other team a little frazzled,” said Taylor Love, who also blocked three shots. “If we just get our passes around — we don’t want to shoot off the first pass, we want to move it around and get nice, open shots.”
The margin was as large as 35-16 in the third quarter after another put-back from Taylor Love, and it was 48-30 midway through the fourth quarter after another Risha three.
That was when the Buccaneers began their comeback, using a 14-3 run to get to the final margin before State College was able to run out the clock.
Overall, it was a strong showing of improvement for the Lady Little Lions just a month into the new system under Leazier.
“I definitely think we’re getting more comfortable with each other,” Love said. “None of us really played together last year, so each game we’re going to figure each other out more and more and we’re taking big steps forward.”