Panthers too much to handle

Greenwood’s girls basketball team hosted North Central on Tuesday. The Panthers entered play 16-0 and ranked second in Class 4A, so the Woodmen weren’t expecting victory.

Instead, Coach Lee Taft hoped to see the continued positive signs he says he’d seen in practice through most of the holiday break.

The Woodmen showed well in some areas, but not nearly well enough to challenge North Central, which averages a victory margin of more than 20 points per game and has won all but three games by double figures. The Panthers forced 22 turnovers and harassed Greenwood into an 8-of-44 shooting effort en route to a 62-22 victory.

Greenwood starts two sophomores (Bailee Taft and Alex Kincaid) in its backcourt, and entered the season with just two players having played significant minutes together on last season’s squad, which was led by Indiana All-Star and IUPUI freshman Holly Hoopingarner.

The Woodmen have struggled to a 3-14 record thus far, and North Central was arguably the toughest in a line of top-notch competition Greenwood has played this season. The Woodmen’s schedule ranks as the 30th-toughest in the state according to the Sagarin Index, and that ranking doesn’t count the North Central game, or upcoming matchups against Center Grove (ranked 15th in the Sagarin ratings) and Rushville (ranked fifth in Class 3A).

“Our schedule forces us to play hard all the time; there are no breaks,” Taft said. “We’re not afraid of playing against talent, but when you’re young like us, it’s nice to play teams that are a little more comparable.”

Despite Tuesday’s lopsided loss, Taft found some positives. Greenwood’s defense helped keep North Central’s field-goal percentage down (40 percent, 20 of 50) and helped force 18 Panther turnovers.

The game didn’t feature much drama, though. North Central built first-half leads of 21-2 and 34-7, and its 1-3-1 halfcourt trap forced Greenwood into 18 first-half turnovers. The Panthers managed to trap without fouling for the game’s first 13 minutes.

“We knew they were better, athletically and basketball-wise,” Taft said of North Central. “We wanted to make sure we executed the things we had been working on in practice. We didn’t do that very well in the first half, but did better in the second half.”

Leah Moore led Greenwood with eight points and six rebounds, while Bailee Taft and Kincaid each added six points. Mackenzie Turner’s third-quarter layup accounted for the only other Woodmen points.

Despite all of that, Taft feels good about the progress he sees the girls making.

“We had some really good practices after the break, and we didn’t want to lose that momentum,” he said. “We’re getting healthy, and really starting to push to the point where I feel like we can be a tough out in the tournament.”

Greenwood hosts Whiteland on Friday.

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Adam Wire is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.