Cougar girls beat short-handed Knights

"It took a few seconds to transform Denise Baxter’s teeth from grit to grin.Baxter, coach of the Central Kitsap High School girls basketball team, found out just before game time last Friday night (Jan. 14) that Bremerton’s star, Deadra Smith, wouldn’t be playing.That took the edge off the proceedings, and allowed the Cougars to cruise to a relatively uneventful 66-37 Olympic League victory. Without Smith’s 24-plus points and double-figures rebounds, the Knights were no match for a balanced Central Kitsap team that has its eyes on a return to the postseason.“It was a good game to teach, and just let everybody play,” Baxter said.That’s a good opportunity for a team that’s been to the West Central District playoffs two years running, and is battling to make it three appearances in a row. Friday’s win jumped the Cougars to 4-3 in league play (going into last night’s road game at Olympic), placing them a half game behind North Kitsap for the second of two Class 4A playoff berths alotted to the league.It was a game the Cougars were going to have to win, Baxter pointed out, with Smith in the Knights’ lineup or without her.“We didn’t change anything with (Smith) out of there,” said Baxter, who was told by Bremerton coach Jim Portune minutes before tipoff of his plans to hold Smith and another senior, guard Maurshell Daniels, out. “We definitely wanted to know where she was, and bring somebody over and double. But we weren’t going to make any big changes against her. We just went out and played the same way we had planned on.”Portune said the benching of the Knights’ team captain was “coach’s choice,” and characterized it as disciplinary in nature. He declined comment on whether Smith would be back in the lineup soon, or at all, this season.Without the source of more than half their scoring this season, the Knights understandably struggled. Playing against the quick, organized Cougars didn’t help.Beth Robinson paced CK with a season-best 14 points. Sophomore Anna Garner came off the bench to add 11 points and Tishala Rought had 10.It says a lot about the game that the bulk of the Cougars’ scoring came from its backcourt, via steals and in transition. Every time the Knights broke down offensively, Robinson and Co. zipped downcourt and cashed in immediately.When they did set up, the Knights were credible, particularly on the boards. Behind junior Shari Lewis — who tied CK’s Haylee Hanson for game honors with 10 rebounds — Bremerton battled the Cougs on nearly even terms inside.“Shari can go up and get the ball,” Portune said, “and she’s starting to learn how to put it back up. She’s been a tiger on the boards.”It’s out on the open floor that the game was decided, however. CK had 42 of its points by halftime, putting themselves in control with a 13-2 burst that put them up 18-6 with 1 minute, 41 seconds left in the opening quarter. Robinson scored the first five points of that run, starting with a baseline jumper off Hanson’s assist, then following with a steal and layup that resulted in a trip to the free throw line and a three-point play. She scored twice more, both on layups, to ignite CK’s 22-6 second quarter, when 3-pointers by Alisha White and Jill Mangrobang were all the offense the Knights could muster.Lindsey Whyte added seven points and eight boards for Central. Lauren Durdahl had nine points and White eight to lead Bremerton."

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