WESTPORT — Ball movement was a point of emphasis for Danbury girls basketball coach Jackie DiNardo in practices leading up to today’s FCIAC Tournament quarterfinal game at Staples. Pressure defense has been the Wreckers’ greatest asset during a current run of success, and DiNardo was aware solving it was the key to her team’s season continuing past the weekend.
“We always start out too high and I need to get them to calm down and relax,” DiNardo said. “We do a possession thing where we had the ball 12 times and six of them were turnovers, so we’ve been calculating that. We finally did settle down, made better passes and that did turn the game around.”
The Hatters’ passes were usually a step ahead of the defenders, and a 10-0 run to start the second half was the critical factor in a 47-30 win.
The seventh-seeded Hatters (9-4) avenged a one-point loss to Staples at the start of the season. They will face No. 3 Trumbull, a winner this afternoon over Stamford, in the semifinals on Wednesday.
As Danbury set up its halfcourt offense, the ball more often than not went through Kianna Perry, and that usually led to positive results. Perry finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
“We were passing the ball around, hitting the open man, finding the middle — middle is key, we worked on that relentlessly in practice — not being timid,” Perry said.
Tianna Rogers, a matchup problem for Staples inside, was the recipient of several entry passes from Perry and added eight points for the Hatters. Chloe Perrault also scored eight.
“She’s always fantastic,” DiNardo said of Perry. “I’m very pleased with her game. When she shoots and she sets it goes in every time. She’s got a lot of self control.”
In a game of spurts, Danbury scored nine straight points to take a 19-10 lead with 3:24 left in the opening half. Four different players scored as the Hatters appeared to have a comfort margin to take into the break.
But the second-seeded Wreckers (11-3) had their own run of nine points in the final 1:49, and got within 23-22 on a basket by Nicole Holmes right before the buzzer.
The momentum was short-lived; the Hatters moved the ball and got good looks, resulting in a 10-0 run that was essentially the knockout punch.
“The kids just wanted it,” DiNardo said. “We got beat by one here. I know they were missing one player and she’s like the glue. She’s so easy, calm, and she doesn’t get rattled. Today we were able to take that advantage for us.”
DiNardo was referring to Marley Lopez-Paul, who missed her second straight game. Staples did get leading scorer Alva Nordin back from an ankle injury but she was held to three points.
Staples made just nine field goals. Sydelle Bernstein scored 10 points, with three 3-pointers, but she did not get enough touches. Nicole Holmes added nine points and Lexie Moskovit scored eight.
“We had trouble shooting and it was a bad day, and it happens,” Staples coach Paco Fabian said. “They’re a tough team.”
The Hatters were going to be a tough draw for any high seed that had the misfortune of facing them.
Danbury recently came out of a two-week coronavirus pause which saw it have to play several games mostly with junior varsity players.
“A lot of people have been talking about Danbury, saying Danbury this and Danbury that,” Perry said. “We came out here to prove a point and we’re going to try and win FCIAC.”