In a Jan. 7 game against Dundee-Crown, Huntley’s Ali Andrews positioned herself under the basket with a defender on her back while another face-guarded her.
The freshman wiggled free and received a pass from point guard Kayla Barreto. Soon there were four Chargers’ defenders surrounding Huntley’s 6-foot-2 center, all with their hands up.
In a Dec. 7 game against Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake South coach Kyle McCaughn moved away from a basic man-to-man defensive set and employed various zone defenses to help stop the Trojans’ top scorer in Olivia Jakubicek.
Around the Fox Valley Conference, teams have begun to create game plans against certain players, but the attention given to the Red Raiders’ Andrews has been dramatic because of her height and offensive skills.
McCaughn has moved away from playing a general man-to-man and has used numerous other defenses this season with success, holding Jakubicek to five points in a 45-43 win Dec. 7 against the Trojans. Those defenses have been anything from traditional to modified zones, intent on preventing one or two standout players from dominating a game against them.
The goal is to force a team’s other players, not the stars, to beat them.
Four days after beating Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake South faced Ali Andrews and Huntley.
“We really try to show some different looks,” McCaughn said. “Against a team like Huntley, we did a little to try to limit their touches where they want them, and against them you have to make adjustments.”
McCaughn employed a number of zones, but the Red Raiders won the game Dec. 11 in part because of their players’ on-the-floor recognition.
“Coach has us prepared,” Huntley’s Sam Andrews said. “We feel confident out there, and we know what to expect when teams try to take away one of our players.
“It’s all about reacting to what we see and not panicking.”
The first thing to notice is the average height of the Red Raiders’ starting lineup – 5-10 – which includes three starters 6-0 or taller. That alone causes matchup problems. Their skill is what makes them more dangerous.
Junior Sam Andrews is a 6-0 forward with scoring abilities from any spot on the floor while her freshman sister Ali – a 6-2 center – has given opposing teams fits under the basket. Haley Ream, another 6-0 forward, can create her own shot and score with consistency.
Although those players are a nice luxury on the offensive side, Red Raiders coach Steve Raethz has found himself teaching his team about defensive looks during practice and preparing his team for a mixture of defenses.
“We do a bunch of different things in practice,” Raethz said. “For instance, we put out a 2-3 zone against our offense, then we will switch into something else.
“Or we do different things like practice against six or seven players in a half-court or full-court press. It puts them in different situations than normal. We don’t do it all the time, but we try to make them make better decisions with the ball when these situations happen during games.”
Through the team’s first 17 games, Huntley has seen a number of defenses being played against them: man-to-man, 2-3 zones, box-and-one and triangle-and-two sets.
With all of these different looks, Raethz said it is important his players recognize what the opposing teams are showing and adjust offensively mid-game.
“It’s important for us to recognize what the [opposing team] is trying to take away from us,” Raethz said. “Then the biggest thing is having five people offensively minded on the court for those instances when we have our inside game taken away. We’ve done a pretty good job of having players step up.
“They have had those opportunities and the kids are doing a nice job and I anticipate us to continue to see different defenses, and our kids are becoming more and more comfortable at reacting to what they see.”
Ream, a senior, said after a Dec. 7 victory over Prairie Ridge that she couldn’t remember playing against zone defenses in past seasons, but has seen them a lot this season because Huntley has numerous players who offer a lot offensively.
The game against the Wolves is when Huntley’s players started to see extensive defensive looks with more regularity.
“You have to do something different when playing these guys,” Prairie Ridge coach Rob Baker said.
The game was also the first time Ali Andrews could remember seeing so much attention given to her in her career. As a freshman, she has had to work hard to deal with the pressure and to keep her frustration at bay.
“It’s really about recognizing the different defenses and what each one is trying to do,” she said. “With coach’s help, we’ve talked about when to pass it out to find someone who should be open when the defense collapses, or how to make moves quicker so I can get a shot up before that help comes.
“It’s always different, so I just have to keep my eyes open.”