Banks girls cap a red-hot start in non-league play with another lopsided win, beating Central 43-20
by: Chase Allgood Banks senior Melissa Masters tries to get a shot off during last Tuesday’s non-league basketball game against Central.

It may be a football cliché, but the Banks girls basketball team is embracing the notion that the best offense is a good defense.

First-year Banks head coach Nick Rizzo has his athletic and experienced team playing some positively inspired defense, and the result has been more than a few lopsided score lines so far this season.

After beating Sheridan by 34 points earlier this year and pounding ninth-ranked La Salle by 30 on Dec. 14, the Lady Braves followed it up with a 43-20 rout of Central last Tuesday that improved Banks' early season record to 4-1 and vaulted the team to No. 2 in the most recent Class 4A coaches poll.

'We've got a bunch of good athletes and we've got length in the right spots,' Rizzo said. 'We've got all the bits and pieces to play tough, hard-nosed defense, and the girls have completely bought into what we're trying to do.'

The Lady Braves' defensive modus operandi is to use their length and quickness to fill passing lanes and quickly close down open shooters. With athletic 6-footer Abby Hardie manning the top of a 1-3-1 zone and ball-hawking wing defenders like 5-8 Riley Gerlinger and 5-11 Samantha Duyck, Banks forces about 20 steals per game and gives up very few open looks.

'We're getting a lot of stuff that's created by our defense,' Rizzo said. 'We're turning turnovers into points quite a bit, which is good to see.'

Also encouraging is the fact that the Lady Braves can force turnovers without running themselves ragged in a full-court press.

'We don't necessarily have to press to create things on the defensive end. Quite honestly, the strength of this team lies in its half-court zone,' Rizzo said. 'We have the length to give teams real problems. I would not want to play us right now. It would be extremely frustrating to try to score against this defense.'

Banks smothered Central last Tuesday, allowing the Panthers just 10 first-half points while building a 15-point halftime lead. The Lady Braves closed out the game on a 12-3 run in the fourth quarter, eventually pulling away for the 43-20 victory.

'We handled business pretty well,' Rizzo said. 'Offensively, at times we looked pretty good and at times things just weren't clicking. Fortunately for us we played outstanding team defense and it gave (Central) fits. Defensively, the kids were just outstanding.'

Melissa Masters had perhaps her best game of the season, springing for 15 points - including a pair of clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter - to lead the Banks offense. Marla Gooding added eight points for the Braves.

Next up for Banks is a trip to the Cascade Holiday Classic this week. The Lady Braves played Elmira on Tuesday, but results were not available at press time. The winner of that game will likely face third-ranked Gladstone today in the tournament championship.

'It could be us versus Gladstone, and I hope it works out that way,' Rizzo said. 'It's really, really important to play good competition - win or lose. That would be a good test for us. I think we'll learn a lot about ourselves and where we stand at this point in the season.'

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