Esky outlasts physical Gwinn

ESCANABA – Michelle LaFave and the Escanaba Eskymos may have felt like they were in a tag-team wrestling match rather than a basketball game by the end of this one. The Gwinn Modeltowners stuffed the box, clung to LaFave all game and played a very physical game that was at times very frustrating for the Eskymos, but Escanaba pulled out a not-so-pretty 46-38 victory, Tuesday night.

“It was very physical. Were we expecting that? no. It was very scrappy,” said Eskymos head coach Dena Fedell. “There were a lot of shots taken, a lot of missed easy buckets, but very scrappy play back and forth.”

LaFave was at least double-teamed and trapped nearly all game, but still came up with 23 points, and had to work for every one of them. She also added 12 rebounds and four steals.

Gwinn’s McKenzie Hollands drew the assignment of primarily guarding LaFave and did her best to ensure the Eskymos’ center didn’t get good looks.

“They did a good job taking LaFave out of the game in the second half, but she shot real well,” said Gwinn head coach Ben Olsen. “They have a good player in the middle in LaFave and we did the best we could to hold her up.”

The Eskymos got out to a fast start as guards’ Ashley Cook and Lynsey Collins got plenty of steals between them and worked their fast break to an 18-8 lead after eight minutes.

Collins had perhaps her best game as an Eskymo, finishing with a career high 13 points and four steals. She drew a tough assignment on defense as well, guarding Hollands for most of the game.

Hollands was a force in the first half, as she sunk four triples for a team high 12 points, prompting Fedell to make some adjustments.

“At one point we were playing our hybrid (man-zone) defense but because (Hollands) had such a beautiful shot, we had to take care of her, so I had to put Lynsey on the box-and-one on her,” she said. “Once we did that, she didn’t score in the second half. If I had put Lynsey on her in the beginning, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten those shots off. (Hollands) just kept connecting and she had a hot hand. Once we shut that down, we were able to shut a lot of the inside down as well.”

Gwinn (2-4) used its size to its advantage, taking charge in the paint, getting the tough offensive and defensive rebounds and just clogging things up for the Eskymos (2-2). But when LaFave got taken away on the inside, she moved back out to the perimeter where she sunk two three-pointers.

But Gwinn did accomplish what it set out to do in one respect. It stopped the Eskymos fast break in its tracks after the first quarter, as the Modeltowners upped their defensive intensity.

“We always seem to start out with a little bit of quickness, but somehow in the second or third quarter, something happens to change that, whether they come up with a different defense or offense, our girls get rattled. They’re not perfect,” said Fedell. “We did our job in the first quarter, but in the second and third quarter, we have to take care of the ball. We had the fast break and the looks, but we couldn’t connect on those looks.”

Still, Escanaba clung to a 41-38 lead with under a minute remaining in the game when LaFave was fouled on a layup attempt. Directly afterward, Olsen was called for a technical foul for arguing the call. Syd Gafner made both of her free throws, and LaFave made each of hers as well to put the game away.

“Overall, the girls handled themselves really well,” said Fedell. “They were able to not be so distracted that they could get back into their game.”

Escanaba, which won the junior varsity game 43-27, travels to Ishpeming Thursday while Gwinn plays at Houghton.