READING, Mass. -- One team was playing for the third time in three days, but it certainly didn't look like it.
That team, No. 2 Reading, outplayed No. 4 Arlington Catholic Sunday in the finals of the Comcast IAABO Board 27 Basketball Classic and came away with a 58-32 victory. It marks the first time in school history that the Rockets ended the regular season undefeated at 20-0.
“These kids were really tired,” said Reading coach Kim Penney. “For them to come out and play this hard is really a testament to their guts and desire to want to win.”
In yesterday's semifinals, Reading played so sluggish in the first half that it trailed Bishop Feehan by 11 points at halftime. This time around, it took only three minutes for it to get a lead it would never relinquish.
“We knew we didn’t play well against them when we played them in the preseason,” said Reading junior guard Olivia Healy (20 points, eight rebounds), who was also named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “We really wanted to attack them and show them what we’re made of. We wanted to show them how strong we still were. We know we’re going to see them again. They’re a good team.”
Reading found ease in spreading the AC (19-2) defense, utilizing backdoor cuts to get players behind the defense and get easy looks at the basket. When those lanes were not available, the Rockets were particularly effective in following their shots and getting second-chance opportunities.
Reading controlled the boards the whole game, outrebounding AC 37-19.
During four minutes of play spanning the end of the first quarter and opening minutes of the second, it went on a 12-2 run to stretch its lead to 14 points.
It certainly made it more difficult to keep up when Reading had difficulty missing most of its shots. Morgan O’Brien and Katie Clements combined to make seven 3-pointers in the game, and ended with 17 and 13 points respectively.
“Katie has been hitting a few three’s for us every night,” said Penney. “She’s not hesitating at all, she’s very confident. She’s a senior and she’s playing very well right now. I’m happy for her.”
“I think with these girls, when you take the element of winning and losing out of it, we just want to play hard every night,” she added. “If we win, great. If we lose, well we tried our best and that’s all I can ask. Today, they did their best and wound up on the winning end of it.
Healy hounds Roberson: The matchup of the game was Healy on Arlington Catholic’s Emma Roberson. She is the catalyst to most of what AC does: she’s a high-energy guard that can shoot well and is not afraid to play physical under the basket and fight for rebounds. For most of the game, Healy shadowed Roberson around the paint, while the rest of the Reading defense set up in a zone.
Overall, Healy was successful in her efforts, holding Roberson to 9 points in the game.
“Emma is an excellent player, so we just wanted to contain her,” said Penney. “I’m sure they’re tired too, since they played yesterday too.”
Healy said guarding Roberson was more of "a mental game", and hustle.
“I wanted it a lot today, and I knew that she was a great competitor," Healy said of Roberson. "I’ve seen her play during the summer across the country. It was just a matter of playing as hard as you possibly could after three days. I thought I was going to get boxed out really hard and I got some splits (in the defense) in the first half. Emma did a great job on me in the second half, so it was a battle of that matchup there.”
No pain, no drain: After playing three games in a row, no one would blame Reading if it needed a well-deserved few days off to rest for the upcoming MIAA tournament. Penney is giving her team that, with three days off before it comes back for a scrimmage on Thursday against Pentucket. It remains to be seen how beneficial or detrimental the time off will be, since Reading is expected to receive the week off at the beginning of the tournament that is granted to the No. 1 seed.
It would be no surprise to see the two teams play each other again in the tournament. In fact, some even welcome the challenge.
“Oh, I hope we see them again,” said Penney.