Demons ready for rubber match with Keokuk
When Washington lost to Keokuk 45-40 at home on Jan. 25, the Demons shot a dismal 17-for-56 from the field. Following the game, Washington head coach Phil Long was optimistic that if the two teams met again in the postseason, his squad would win because his players just couldn’t possibly shoot the ball that bad again.
“I told the kids after that game, ‘It isn’t like you shot it poorly and lost by 20. You shot it poorly and lost by five,’” he said. “We only gave up 45, so we were still playing good, solid defense.”
The Demons (13-7) went through a six-game stretch where they shot just 28 percent from the field, losing five of those games and falling from the state rankings. That key Southeast Conference game with Keokuk was smack dab in the middle of that offensive lull.
“It wasn’t X’s and O’s, and it wasn’t [for a lack of] effort,” Long said. “It was just missed 2-footers and missed free throws, which had been our bread and butter all season.”
Now Washington, which hosts Keokuk in Class 4A Region 4 semifinal on Saturday night, seems to have regained its offensive swagger a bit. The Demons defeated a ranked Mid-Prairie squad 46-44 in overtime on Feb. 5 and topped rival Mt. Pleasant 54-42 last Friday night to claim the Southeast Conference championship for the second straight year. Those wins will give Washington’s players a lot of confidence as they head into the postseason.
“We should be confident,” Long said. “That’s why I would have liked to have played right away on Wednesday night because when you’re on a roll, you want to go. We’re confident after knocking off a ranked team and playing the best 32 minutes of basketball against Mt. Pleasant that we’ve played all year long at both ends of the floor. We can’t be peaking at a better time.”
Washington set season highs for free-throw attempts and makes against Mt. Pleasant, going 27-for-41 at the line in the win, giving its offense a much-needed shot in the arm. The Demons currently rank fourth in Class 4A in free-throw attempts and seventh in makes.
“We’re getting to the free-throw line 41 times in one game and scoring 20-some points from the free-throw line,” Long said. “There for a while we led the state in free-throw attempts and makes in Class 4A, not percentage, but sheer attempts and makes. I think we’re No. 2 or 3 now. Our goal is to put pressure on the rim, which gets them in foul trouble and gives us a chance to score with nobody guarding us.”
That pressure could come from any one of Washington’s players. The Demons have balanced scoring, led by senior point guard Lauren Kimball’s 8.6 points per game. Lightning-quick junior Stephanie Fishback adds 7.9 points per contest, and senior Beth Dillon averages 6.9 a game.
Senior center Rachel Dunlap averages nearly a double-double for the Chiefs (12-10), scoring 15.5 points and grabbing 9.1 rebounds per game. Sophomore Lakyn Boltz adds 11.4 points per contest and is a 39 percent 3-point shooter. In the game the two teams played on Jan. 25, Washington trimmed Keokuk’s lead to four points in the fourth quarter, but then Boltz hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Chiefs a comfortable cushion.
“That’s what hurt us last time we played here,” Long said. “We had it back down to a manageable game, and then she hit two threes back-to-back that put it back up to nine again. We could only get it back to five. We’ve got to know where Boltz is on the 3-point line and we’ve got to know where Dunlap is around the lane area.”
Keokuk starts two sophomores and a freshman, and a number of other youngsters come off the team’s bench.
“They’re pretty young,” Long said. “They have a lot of freshmen and sophomores on that squad, and this is tournament time. I don’t care how much you’ve played all year long, your first tournament run is a little different experience.”
On the other hand, Washington starts four seniors, all of whom played in the postseason last year. The key for the Demons in Saturday’s game, Long said, is to get off to a quick start offensively, like his squad did in its 58-51 win at Keokuk on Dec. 14.
“We need to score 12 points in the first quarter instead of getting stuck with four or five, even though they may only have four or five,” Long said. “When we played them down there the first time, we made seven of our first eight 3-pointers, and six different kids hit them.”
But no lead will be safe against Keokuk. The Demons led the Chiefs 35-22 late in the third quarter of a Class 3A regional semifinal last season, but were out-scored 26-9 over the game’s final 10 minutes and they lost a heartbreaker.
“That’s the way this game will go, too,” Long said. “I don’t care what happens, I don’t care if we have them down, they will fight and fight and fight until that last horn honks. We have to be able to match that type of intensity.”
Washington had won both regular-season meetings with Keokuk last year, but then lost in the playoffs.
“I’ve always said it’s really hard to beat people three times in one year, and we proved that last year we couldn’t do it,” Long said. “Now we’re 1-1 [this year], so we don’t have that excuse anymore. It’s game on.”