By Steve Rogers
FALL RIVER — Layla Moran was the lone Westport High School girls’ basketball team player who chose to practice shooting the ball during the halftime break of the team’s game against Diman Regional Vocational Friday afternoon in Fall River.
The other seven Westport players in uniform opted to sit and rest with the Wildcats holding a slim 19-14 lead. Moran scored the first points of the contest, a three-pointer from the top of the key, but failed to score again in the opening two quarters. So she was out practicing during the break trying to find her shooting touch. Who said practice doesn’t pay?
Moran, who averages about 10 points per game, hit two three-pointers in each of the final quarters and finished with a game-high 19 points to help guide the Wildcats to a 53-31 win.
“It takes a while for me to get in my rhythm,” said Moran. “The second half I started getting more comfortable. I saw more looks. We were kind of working it inside more. Once we were finishing inside, that opens it up more outside for me. It’s a team thing.”
The Wildcats, who defeated Diman 65-24 in Westport a week before Christmas, climbed to 8-1 in the Mayflower League and to 11-4 overall. This time around it was not as easy picking up the ‘W’ for the Wildcats. Westport made just three of its first 29 field goal attempts and trailed by five points near the midpoint of the second quarter.
“We always kind of come out slow to start,” Moran said. “It’s something we’ve been trying to work on. It’s always difficult playing away. Playing at home is obviously more comfortable and we’re used to our crowd. But it’s not an excuse to come out sloppy.
“We want to get off to a stronger start and finish at the end. We’ve got the finishing point down. We’ve just got to work at coming out stronger.”
Westport, led by its full-court pressure, reversed its fortune by causing 28 Diman turnovers, most of which resulted in easy baskets. After a horrid shooting start, Westport went 18-for-44 (41 percent) from the floor and pulled away for the win.
“Our press affected them,” Westport coach Glenn Lincoln said. “We got some quick baskets going back the other way and Layla started to find the range and that helped out a lot.”
It was reserve freshman Reaghan Tripp who keyed the turnaround for Westport. She entered the game with her team trailing 12-7, promptly blocked a shot and scored at the end of a Westport fast break. The Bengals countered with a pair of free throws before Tripp scored on an offensive rebound which started a 10-point Westport run to close the half.
“One of the turning points I thought was when Reaghan came in,” Lincoln said. “She made a big difference with those long arms. She had a putback and she was playing good defense down there. Not bad for a freshman.”
Diman’s Lexie Botelho opened the second-half scoring with a rebound hoop to cut the lead to three before the Wildcats, with Moran scoring eight points and Sam Medeiros four, tallied 12 straight to grab a 15-point lead. All told the Wildcats went on a 22-2 run going into and coming out of intermission to take control.
“We opened it up a little bit then and they had to take some things they’re not used to,” Lincoln said. “I think (the Bengals) were trying to go too fast against our press and their coach was yelling at them to slow it down. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time and it happened to turn the game around.”
Brittany Arruda, Moran and Medeiros combined to score all but two of Westport’s 34 second-half points. Medeiros finished with a double-double of 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Arruda also had a dozen points, Morgan Levesque snagged eight rebounds and Alyssa Kochman played frenetic defense.
“Brittany drove the lane, Sammy did a lot of different things in the middle and Koch and Brittany broke the press,” said Lincoln. “The second half we got some rebounds. (Katie McDonnell) and Lexie were getting all the rebounds. But they were coming out to play defense and we were getting more rebounds behind them.”
Westport opened the game with five points before the Bengals got their first points three minutes into the contest. But from that point until midway in the second quarter Diman went on a 14-4 run to take a 14-9 lead. Then things changed in Westport’s favor.
“It didn’t look promising in that first quarter,” said Lincoln. “I think it’s the first time (the Bengals) have had their five girls together all year. They played like it. They played really well and we gave them some open fast break layups.”
Westport shot 23 percent in the first half (9-for-40), 40 percent (12-for-30) in the second half and 30 percent (21-for-70) overall. Diman was 14-for-53 (26 percent) from the floor, 1-for-9 from three-point land and just 2-for-4 from the free throw line. Moran made all five of Westport’s total 18 three-point tries and the Wildcats were 6-for-10 from the free throw line. Westport outrebounded the Bengals 37-33 and had 10 less turnovers (18) than Diman.