By Dave Ruden
WILTON — There was the early 7-2 deficit. The players thought there was a late letdown. And if you want to get nit-picky, the navy and light blue uniforms are a bit pedestrian in this Oregon-infused era.
But nit-picking is what it took to find fault with the Wilton girls basketball team’s performance following Monday’s emphatic and impressive 71-42 win over Westhill in a battle of unbeaten teams.
That early deficit? Erased with a 20-2 run. The late letdown? It came when the Warriors were up by 34 points and they allowed consecutive baskets for the first time since Westhill had a 4-0 lead.
“That was the best first two quarters, and maybe the start of the third, that was the best basketball that we’ve played so far,” said Wilton coach Jackie Porco, whose team already has a win over two-time defending champion Danbury.
Porco paused for a moment and then smiled. “Isn’t it fun?” she said. “They were really ready for today. The intensity in practice has heightened.”
What made the Warriors’ performance so impressive was it came against a quality opponent. Few FCIAC teams can match the Vikings’ athleticism.
Wilton used quick passes to beat pressure and seldom got trapped. During the game-breaking run, it made 19 of 33 shots. There were few instances when a player held the ball for more than three seconds.
“Moving the ball is our gameplan,” said point guard Hayley English, who finished with a game-high 19 points. “We executed it better.”
If the Warriors haven’t already had an embarrassment of riches, Monday marked the return of center Eric Meyer, a junior who has already given a verbal commitment to Providence and had been out with a broken wrist. She was sharp, with 18 points and 7 rebounds. Westhill really didn’t have an answer for her inside.
“Erica came in and gave us a nice presence,” Porco said. “The girls were excited to have her back. The comfort level was a little different having her in there.”
Meyer said she had a difficult time being a spectator, even with her teammates playing well without her.
“It felt great,” Meyer said. “I was looking forward to being back out there. I think we played a very good game. There’s always room for improvement. To say there can be no improvement would be a false statement.”
Wilton certainly looked like a team with all the pieces to win an FCIAC title for the first time since its only other one, in 1989. You might have heard of the Warriors’ leader that season: Kristine Lilly.
Westhill coach Mike King lamented that the Vikings’ offensive struggles denied them the chance of utilizing their greatest asset.
“They played very well, and if we don’t score we can’t press,” King said. “That definitely hurt. We had a lot of good looks, I thought, but nothing that would fall.”
The Vikings are going to be a major player in the league race — Steph Roones, who finished with 15 points, and Tyler Evans, who added 14, are a dangerous 1-2 punch — and the top teams are relatively balanced.
The conference championship always comes down to which team plays the most consistently for three games over five days in late February, and there are several contenders that fill the bill.
But few have as many different weapons as the Warriors. Erin Cunningham is unsung and does everything well. She finished with 14 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists against Westhill. Makenna Pearsall added 9 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists.
“We play very well together,” English said. “We don’t have that one star.”
The Warriors don’t have that one senior, either. None. The six juniors have been playing together for seven years. And they are all coming back next year.
But no one is thinking about next year. The Warriors know they have the pieces to do some special things this winter, but they remain a humble group.
“I think it was a great game tonight,” Porco said, “but we still have a lot more proving to do.”