Shooting woes continue to haunt Washington
Once again, the shots just wouldn’t fall.
Washington, which has struggled offensively all season — but mightily over its last five games — made just 17 of its 55 shots from the field in Friday’s 45-40 loss to visiting Keokuk.
“It was one of those things where I sat on the bench and was almost chuckling internally because I couldn’t believe it was happening again,” said Washington head coach Phil Long, whose team has shot just 28 percent from the field over its last five games, losing four of those contests. “We were doing everything right defensively and we were passing it ahead. But the shots just weren’t going in.”
Keokuk led 16-15 at halftime, but Washington junior Stephanie Fishback made a free throw and then found senior Lauren Kimball for a 3-pointer that put the Demons ahead 19-16. But after that Washington went 1-for-10 from the field and was out-scored 16-4 over the final six minutes of the third quarter. The Chiefs took a 32-23 lead into the fourth quarter.
“Our shots just weren’t going in, but our defense was trying to pick it up,” Fishback said. “But just holding them with our defense wasn’t enough. The shots that we needed to go in just weren’t going.”
Washington junior Dema Giardino opened the fourth quarter by knocking down a 15-foot jumper, and then she got a steal that led to a layup for teammate Grace Redlinger. Another Giardino steal led to a Fishback layup, and suddenly Keokuk’s lead was down to four with 5½ minutes remaining.
The Demons (11-6, 5-1 Southeast Conference) had chances to further cut into the lead. Giardino got another steal, but missed a layup. Fishback had a chance to put back the miss, but her shot was off the mark as well. After Keokuk missed a shot at the other end, Giardino grabbed the rebound and passed it ahead to a wide-open Beth Dillon, but her layup was off the mark. And on the Demons’ next possession, Fishback missed a chance to put back a missed shot, and then senior Sammy Ellingson was blocked when she tried to put back that miss. During a span of a minute and a half Washington missed six shots, five of which were right under the rim, that would have cut further into Keokuk’s lead.
“It’s been an ongoing saga almost the whole year long that we can’t score from 2 feet away,” Long said.
Keokuk senior Rachel Dunlap made two free throws on the other end, and sophomore Lakyn Boltz added a 3-pointer that pushed the Chiefs’ lead back to nine points.
“Lakyn got some open looks and knocked down two or three at the end, and a couple of really big ones,” Keokuk head coach Mike Davis said. “Those were big shots. They sort of opened the game up just a little bit at that point.”
Keokuk made just enough free throws down the stretch to hang on for a five-point win.
“In a close game, it’s all about free throws towards the end,” Davis said. “Rachel [Dunlap] hit just enough to keep that two-possession and sometimes three-possession lead to give us enough room to win it.”
Boltz hit four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 14 points to lead the Chiefs. Dunlap added nine points, all of which came from the free-throw line, and she grabbed 10 rebounds.
It was a big win for the Chiefs (8-7, 4-3 SEC), who had four freshmen and three sophomores on the floor during the contest.
“Any win is big for us when we’re as young as we are,” Davis said. “At one point we had four freshmen and a sophomore on the court. It’s huge for us. It says a lot of things about our young kids and that we’re growing and getting better.”
Senior Mariah Reighard came off the Washington bench to score a career-high eight points, and Fishback also finished with eight for the Demons, who saw their 15-game conference winning streak come to an end.
“It was two years ago almost to the weekend that we lost a conference game, and that was to Keokuk,” Long said. “Now we’ve got to handle Fort Madison and Mt. Pleasant to finish the deal.”
Friday’s loss magnifies Washington’s remaining schedule. The Demons need a win at Fort Madison on Friday to clinch a share of the Southeast Conference championship, and then would need a win over Mt. Pleasant on Feb. 8 to clinch the title outright. Between those two contests is a home game with fifth-ranked Mid-Prairie.
“Every game is like a tournament game now,” Long said.
And when the Demons reach the regional tournament, they’ll likely host Keokuk again on Feb. 16.
“Last year we couldn’t beat them three times,” said Long, whose team lost to the Chiefs in the regional semifinals last season. “I told the kids, ‘Now it’s 1-1. And we only lost by five and we shot it horribly. We almost couldn’t shoot it that bad again.’”
Fishback hopes that Friday’s loss will help the Demons get back on track.
“I think losing this game tonight showed that we can’t just sit back and try to win the game,” Fishback said. “We have to go all-out the entire game. So I think this loss tonight really opened up our eyes that we have to go out there and give 100 percent the entire game in order to win.”