After watching Xavier’s first two basketball games of the season on Friday (Nov. 28) in the Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge – the Gators are going to be worth the price of admission.
They are going to bring an exciting style of play with aggressiveness on defense, a productive offense and a tireless work ethic.
They brought that to the table on Friday with their first two wins of the season, 55-18 over Scottsdale Desert Mountain and 63-55 over Buckeye Verrado.
With the win over Verrado, Xavier advanced to a winner’s bracket game on Saturday (Nov. 29) at 1:30 p.m. against either Yuma Gila Ridge or Prescott, which played a late game on Friday night.
Xavier utilized its pressure defense from the start against Desert Mountain, essentially running the Wolves into the ground by forcing 28 turnovers.
The Verrado game had a much different tempo. It was a physical contest in which 50 fouls were called, 29 on the Gators. Xavier would grab a comfortable lead, only to have Verrado come back to within a few points.
Verrado’s only lead was 3-0 on a three-pointer to begin the game, but the smaller Vipers hung tough.
“The girls did a great job adjusting,’’ said Xavier second-year coach Frank Villa. “I told them, “Different teams are going to give you different looks.’ That’s what we got today, a couple of different looks.’’
Junior Vanessa Murphy, a 6-foot-2 junior, clearly is Xavier’s top player.
She can handle the ball when necessary against defensive pressure, she crashes the boards and she plays solid defense.
Murphy scored a team-high 20 points against Verrado after a 9-point effort against Desert Mountain.
Senior point guard Michaela Palladino did a good job running the offense and finding her teammates for higher-percentage shots as she did in critical stages of the game against Verrado.
And the Gators have three promising freshmen – 6-1 Katie Hassett, 5-11 Montana Oltrogge and 5-11 Alana Kelley.
Hassett had 8 points in the first game and 6 in the second. Oltrogge had a team-high 14 in the first game and 10 in the second.
And Kelley had 10 in the first game – including a pair of three-pointers – before going down just 23 seconds into the second game with an injury to her left ankle. Villa said she was expected to get X-rays to determine the severity and it is unknown how long she will be sidelined.
Kelley’s long-range shooting potential can bring defenses out and open up the inside for Murphy and others. Kelley also can drive to the basket and is aggressive on the boards.
Murphy and sophomore guard Brittany Robinson each connected on a key three-pointer in the fourth quarter of the second game for the Gators to minimize the chances that Verrado would be able to come back.
“Our defense is the whole key for us,’’ Villa said. “It allows us to get points off the transition. Last year was tough on the girls in terms of trying to learn what we were teaching them and being in shape, but now they realize what we are trying to do, and the way we played today will help them build some confidence.’’