During the early stages of the season, rookie coach LaBryan Thomas of the George Mason High School varsity girls’ basketball team has stressed the importance of an inside-outside game, working the ball into their dominant post players and kicking it out to potent shooters on the wing.
This plan finally is starting to come to fruition, as evidenced by their 56-43 manhandling of Seton School on Tuesday night.
“I told the team at the beginning of the year that in order to be good, we have to work the inside-out game,” Thomas said. “We’ve been working on it all year, slowly getting better, and once we get it going, we’re going to be tough to guard.”
Senior Kim Kenny comprised the majority of the “inside” game, as Thomas constantly called out isolation plays for the All-District forward. Kenny quickly responded to her coach’s faith, rewarding Thomas’ confidence with 13 points on 83 percent free-throw shooting to go along with four rebounds.
“We knew that [Seton] had a big, but young girl, so we felt good about putting Kim up against her,” Thomas said. “It was an experienced senior against a young player, and today the senior won.”
When the Conquistadors solved Kenny’s presence with constant double-teams on entry passes, the “outside” portion of Thomas’ offense took center stage, led by junior Nicole Mitchell. The All-District guard, fresh off a transition from the forward spot, displayed her pin-point accuracy from beyond the arc, tallying four three-pointers for 20 points on the night. In obvious pain after tweaking her back in the first half, Mitchell nailed a three to open up the second half, giving Mason a substantial lead they would never relinquish.
To go along with the upperclassmen leadership of Kenny and Mitchell, the Mustangs started three freshmen against Seton, certainly a testament to the depth of talent present on Thomas’ squad. Bria Platenburg, Leah Roth and Lauren Kane, three guards playing in the absence of junior Chantal Thomas, held their own against the Conquistadors according to their coach.
“All the ninth graders are growing up really fast,” said coach Thomas. “They were thrown into the fire a lot faster than I would have liked, but they’re all going to have great years. The depth on our team will certainly help us, especially when Chantal comes back. The more people we have on the floor, the better off we’ll be.”
Platenburg tacked on 10 points against Seton, all from the floor off open shots in the paint, while Kane added six points in a third quarter run which blew the game wide open for the Mustangs. Heading out of the break with a six-point lead, Mason used a 14-5 third quarter margin to gain a double digit lead, a direct result of their aggressive press defense.
“Our defensive intensity was the best thing I saw tonight,” said coach Thomas. “We’ve been having let downs lately, but overall they did great tonight. At halftime I just told them they had to cut down on the turnovers, because they had 15 in the first half, and to take care of the ball. We just wanted to work hard on the defensive end and relax on offense, take our time.”
As a team, the Mustangs poured in 30 total rebounds, 15 of which came on the offensive end. Senior Abby Stroup came off the bench to tally 12 rebounds, nearly matching her year-to-date total, nine of which came on the defensive end.
Mason shot 41 percent from the field, certainly a boost from their 33 percent season average, but crucial turnovers allowed Seton to hang around much longer than coach Thomas would have liked. The Mustangs are averaging just over 23 turnovers a game, pouring 26 on Tuesday, but also tallied 11 assists, led by Roth’s four.
The win over Seton comes at the tail end of a three-game winning streak for the Mustangs, which began last week. Last Thursday Mason downed Potomac Falls on the road, 48-28, before turning around the next day to defeat cross-town rival Falls Church, 43-25.
With a holiday tournament at Chantilly High School looming over winter recess, Mason has a few final tune-ups before their Bull Run District campaign begins in 2009. The Mustangs will take on Dominion High School this Thursday in their last game before school lets out for two weeks. With the return of Chantal Thomas, and the emerging presence of coach Thomas’ inside-out game, Mason appears poised to return to the form exhibited last year, when they reached the state semi-finals.