Boston High School: Emily Chang

Recap: No. 5 Westford 70, No. 23 Newton South 54

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
WESTFORD, Mass. -- The No. 5 Westford Academy girls’ basketball team proved Friday night it is often the less glamorous aspects of the game that can be the biggest different between victory and defeat.

Behind a strong defensive effort and a willingness to attack the glass at both ends of the floor, it came away with a 70-54 victory over No. 23 Newton South.

Seniors Hannah Hackley (20 points) and Sam Hyslip (19 points) combined for 28 rebounds, which was more than the 21 the entire Newton South (3-3) team amassed in the game. Westford (6-0) as a team finished with 43 total boards.

“Rebounding to me is like scoring to any other player,” said Hyslip. “I don't focus on points, I focus on rebounds. If I’m not rebounding than I’m not having a good game. Hannah probably has a similar mentality. We both just know we’re the ones who need to be low and have our hands up and we always have to get those boards because they’re key. How else are you going to switch from defense to offense or go back up on an offensive board, so I really think we have that mentality down.”

Defensively, Westford made it a point to stop Newton South’s Emily Chang and Jessa Rubera. Chang was on last year’s South team that made a deep run in the state tournament as a 17-seed. She tore her ACL in last year’s semifinal loss and is now sporting a brace on her knee. She showed no effects of the injury Friday night, scoring 16 points including a 3-pointer that was well behind the line.

Rubera finished the game with 21 points, 12 which came from three.

Late in the second quarter, Newton South cut the deficit to 29-28. It took advantage of Westford’s long-range misses to push its offense up the floor and create easy baskets. It tried to work the ball into the post, but with the defense keying in on Sam Hyslip, the most available shots were from the outside. With all the momentum seemingly with South, it became a point in the game where a team’s character was on display. Would Westford tighten up and let South take the lead? Would Westford go back to what was working and assert itself on the backboards? Westford was able to push back and go into halftime with a 38-30 lead.

“People know that Sam is very good, so they’re doing a great job of double-teaming her and sending help over every time she gets the ball,” said Westford coach Russ Coward. “What we sometimes forget is there is a nice mid-range shot there at the top of the free throw line that is wide open because teams try to take away the three and they try to take away the layup down low with Sam. What we talked about at halftime was get Sam up a little higher and have our guards and Hannah try to attack the middle of the lane, which for most teams is going to be soft. When we started attacking that are, I think it opened up a lot of stuff for everybody.”

South was able to get the lead Westford lead back down to four points in the third quarter off its timely three-point shooting. However, it could never overcome the deficit.

Entrapment: In the first quarter, Westford amped up its defensive pressure with a 1-2-1-1 full court press. It let South inbound the ball in the corners, and then two players quickly converged on the ball handler. South wanted to break the press by inbounding the ball to the middle of the floor and then passing it to the wing and having its wing players work the ball up the floor, but the Grey Ghosts did their best to take that option away and force the ball to go to the corners.

As the South players tried to pass out of the double team, the defenders would often slap the ball away or a help defender would be around to steal possession away.

Over the course of the game, South found ways to get the ball to its bigs, which allowed it to execute its press break the way it intended to. That forced Westford out of its system and into less pressure-based defenses.

“We’re so used to attacking and sometimes we don’t play as smart as we need to on defense,” said Coward. “When they’re passing the ball to their big kids, we don’t need to trap their big kids, we need to keep it away from Jessa Rubera and Emily Chang. We don’t want them with the ball, we want the big kids with the ball and try to steal the pass from them.”

Wakeup call: Two weeks ago, Westford beat, defending Division 1 State Champion Central Catholic in the finals of the Commonwealth Motors Classic. That win helped build the confidence of the team and set the course for the last two months of the regular season. However, after the game Friday, Coward said he felt his team might have came into the game “thinking we were probably a little better than we actually are, and it was nice to get smacked and kind of get a wakeup call here.”

Hackley acknowledged the importance of the Central win as a building block early in the season, but also agreed with her coach that the team was not where it could have been mentally coming into the game.

“We try not to take any games easy and we work really hard in practice,” she said. “We keep saying, even after we beat Central, ‘This isn’t the end, this is only the fourth game of the season. We have a lot more goals to reach.’ We didn’t come into the game not focused, but I think not as sharp as we needed to.

"We definitely learned from this, and I think it’s important to see and to have that confidence that even though we were able to get out of a close game, that should not happen because as we get into the playoffs it is not going to be easy to climb out of holes like that.”

D1 South, Newton South 49, Newton North 45 (OT)

February, 28, 2013
NEWTON, Mass. -- Kayla Burton had gone over this scenario countless times before with her frequent shooting partner, her father Steve.

When her Newton South teammate Jessa Rubera fought through a double-team to kick out a skip pass to Burton at the opposite wing, the Lehigh-bound senior point guard estimated she had about three seconds before a Newton North defender picked her up. Seemingly an ocean's length from the nearest defender, Burton repeated her father's advice -- "Take your time" -- as she let one rip.

From the sideline, South coach Sam Doner -- known for his loose reigns, a freelancing offense with few set plays -- recalled muttering, "That better go in." Like clockwork, it sank; and after a Lauren Levey three with 57 seconds left put the Lions up 49-43, the Lions' improbable overtime defeat of their cross-town archrivals was complete.

South, the No. 15 seed in MIAA Division 1 South, delivered one of the more surprising haymakers of a Thursday night full of upsets, knocking off No. 2 seed Newton North 49-45 before a capacity crowd at the Reggie Gymnasium.

"I actually looked at Jessa and she saw me," said Burton, who will continue her career next year at Lehigh. "I moved to an open spot, and she made that amazing skip pass...Jessa made such an amazing play, and made such an amazing pass."

Even more remarkable than the seedings is the fact that nearly two months ago, over the Holiday break in December, North cruised to an easy 53-28 victory over the Lions. The biggest difference from then to now? A renewed focus on the defensive end.

"What we learned as a team today, it's always 'Newton South versus Newton North', like this big whole ordeal" Burton said. "But really, it's just basketball. We made adjustments that we had to make, we listened to each other, and we knew we had to really box out on defense. I think that's what we did more today than last time."

North's frenetic slasher Infiniti Thomas-Waheed (19 points, 19 rebounds) tied the game at 43-43 with 29 seconds to go, first stopping a South player cold in their tracks with a vicious pick, then crashing to the rim and slipping in a second-effort put-back.

The Lions had a chance to win with 12 seconds left, Burton taking the ball in isolation against Thomas-Waheed. Burton drove baseline, but came up empty, with the 5-foot-10 Thomas-Waheed getting a small piece of it. Going the other way, the Tigers were unable to get a shot off before the buzzer, an entry pass getting lost in a scrum in the paint as time expired.

Halfway through the overtime, Burton came up with the go-ahead three, but it wasn't by design. The play was initially a high pick-and-roll, designed to clear out the left side and make room for sharp-shooting freshman Emily Chang (11 points, three 3-pointers), and thereunto divert the defense away from Burton and create a higher-percentage look at the basket. The play unraveled quickly, with Rubera getting trapped by two defenders along the baseline near the right block, but Rubera made a terrific second effort to extend the play, kicking the ball out.

"There's no really set plays for us, as far as half-court offense," Doner said. "Those plays, they're really just read and react. I'm just very proud of the kids reacting to and finding not just an open [player], but who I think is one of the better shooters on the team."

After South took a quick 7-0 lead to start the game, neither team ever led by more than five points, until Levey's three with less than a minute to go in overtime. The Tigers led 20-18 at the half, and South led 35-33 after three.

Infiniti and Beyond: Off to a 1-for-9 start from the field, North coach Linda Martindale briefly pulled Thomas-Waheed from the lineup early in the second quarter and told her, "If you want to get into a shooting contest with Kayla Burton, this isn't going to go down well for you."

"We play team basketball, and 1-for-9 means you better start doing something else, and that is start crashing boards," Martindale explained.

Thomas-Waheed heeded those words, and delivered, with 11 of her 19 boards coming on the defensive end.

"She rebounded beautifully for us, and we asked her to do that, and she did," Martindale said. "She did what she could do, and defensively we had her step up against Kayla. She's got good footwork. I was pretty happy overall. She's a team player, and when she did what we asked her to do she did it."

Thomas-Waheed, the daughter of Boston College men's basketball assistant coach Akbar Waheed, is regarded as one of the state's premier on-ball defenders. Part of the reason a variety of Division 1 schools have begun showing interest is for her defensive motor -- with her long arms, surgical footwork on the perimeter and ornery first-step explosion, the Tigers are one of the toughest outs in Eastern Mass. when she gets a full head of steam.

One particular sequence in the second quarter summed it all up nicely. From a stationary position near the scorer's table, Thomas-Waheed sprinted to a loose ball at the opposite sideline, submarining at the ball and taking out a South player in the process with a vicious undercut. The ball unable to be saved, Thomas-Waheed grabbed a loose board, gathering the ball with a loud slap of her left hand, and tossing a 50-foot outlet pass up-court to Amanda Ortiz for a 17-12 lead. The next time down, she completed North's 10-3 run with an up-and-under, for a 20-15 margin.

"She uses her athleticism -- big, strong, tall, and humble. I really respect her as a player," Burton said. "When I saw the change-up, and she was playing defense on me, I thought 'Oh shoot, this will be different from the last one'.

"Her long arms [are] really hard to get by. A lot of defenders are big like that, but her long arms are threatening and intimidating. She's really hard to go by."

Lion's Pride, But a Tiger at Heart: As a 1994 graduate of Newton North, Doner admits this victory, beating the Tigers in their own gym, comes a little bittersweet.

"I wish I could say it's a good feeling, but it's not," Doner said. "I owe most of my life to Newton North -- the teachers, the staff, the athletic director, the coaches, everyone. It's a good feeling coming in here obviously and beating this team, but inside I'm still Newton North.

"I'll always be Newton South as far as the coaching stuff. But life, growing up, there's nothing like Newton North. The good thing is, which I'm happy about, I've never played in this gym, this is a brand new building. I'll take this win and move on."