CLEAR LAKE – Good basketball teams generally have one phase of the game that, when everything else fails, that one phase will keep them in games.
For the fifth-rated (3A) Clear Lake Lions, the defense is the constant.
Entering regional semifinal play on Wednesday, the Clear Lake girls basketball team sported a 20-2 overall record, and in 18 of those contests, the Lions held their opponents to 40 or fewer points.
In 10 of those games, the Lions held teams to 30 or fewer.
“Defense is where you have to be good when you are not shooting well,” Clear Lake coach Bart Smith said.
The Clear Lake defense, which produces nearly 15 steals per game, has helped the Lions overcome size disadvantages that they encounter with most of their opponents.
In a season in which the Lions have posted numerous lopsided victories, one team that played the Lions tough twice was North Central Conference rival Iowa Falls-Alden, although Clear Lake still emerged with hard-fought victories both times.
On Wednesday, the Lions took their defense to a new level as they held the Cadets scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the game and rolled to a 51-30 victory.
The first quarter statistics tell much of the story.
On their way to a 15-0 lead after one period, the Lions limited a solid IF-A team to 0-of-9 shooting from the floor and forced nine turnovers.
“In the previous games, we thought they got to the middle too much,” Smith said. “We wanted to guard the middle.”
While Clear Lake utilized several different strategies, the most effective was a switching man-to-man that bottled up the lane and prevented the Cadets from taking advantage of their superior height on the front line.
While IF-A made a modest run in the second quarter, the Cadets rarely were able to get the margin under 10 points and never came closer than seven.
Offensively, the Lions demonstrated quite a bit of patience – especially in the second half – and that patience led to a balanced effort.
Lexi Fasbender, a sophomore guard, was able to drive to the hoop with some consistency and came up with 14 of her game-high 16 points over the final two quarters.
“After we made some threes, they were closing out faster,” Fasbender said. “It helps that we can create plays.”
Sara Faber, the Lions’ leading scorer on the season, overcame on off-shooting night to finish with 11.
Jordyn Barragy and Zoe Fasbender had eight and seven points, respectively, but the key shot that put an end to the Cadets’ final run was long 3-pointer from Chloe Mueller.
Katie Meyer and Grace Renaud had 11 and 10 points, respectively, for IF-A.
Clear Lake (21-2) advances to Saturday’s regional final at Garner where the Lions will face Algona.
The Bulldogs downed Forest City 66-41 on Wednesday.
Clear Lake swept a pair of close games from Algona during the regular season with a 44-40 win on Dec. 8 and a 47-42 victory on Jan. 23.