VAN ALSTYNE — Depending on the substitution pattern, the Lady Bulldogs will probably have the tallest player on the floor. It might have the two tallest, or perhaps the top three.
There’s a chance that Howe will use a lineup where four of its players would lead that ranking. When they can claim their entire starting five has the height advantage? That’s when the Lady Bulldogs show they’re tough to stop.
“They’re just really long and they can play. They’re athletic and hard to deal with. It’s hard to shoot over our length,” Howe head coach Derek Lands said. “They’ve gotten a lot stronger this year and as the year’s gone on it’s helped a bunch. It causes problems in passing lanes because what works against other people doesn’t work against us.”
With another strong performance in the paint at both ends of the court, Howe came away with a 52-32 victory over Van Alstyne in District 10-3A action.
The Lady Bulldogs are riding a seven-game win streak where only one game has been decided by fewer than 26 points and that was still a 12-point victory.
“We’re healthy again. That’s a big deal,” Lands said. “We’ve been playing pretty good. Staying healthy is the biggest thing we’ve got to do.”
Cassidy Anderson had 16 points, 12 rebounds and five steals, Ally Harvey added 16 points and six rebounds, Sierra Copeland chipped in nine points and 12 rebounds and Jenna Honore totaled five points, six rebounds and three assists for Howe (23-5, 9-1), which has the district bye on Tuesday night before hosting third-place Leonard on Friday.
The Lady Bulldogs remain a half-game in front of Bells going into the home stretch and the teams split their meetings, although each time the losing side was without a starting guard. When Howe dropped the first match-up by three points on the road, it came without Honore and the point guard’s ability to run the offense was missing.
“That and her defense,” Lands said. “I think she’s the best defensive player around and there’s a lot of people that will vouch for that.”
Torrin Riddick scored 12 points, Micah Welch added seven points and Bailey Henderson chipped in four points for Van Alstyne (11-14, 4-5), which fell into a tie with Whitewright for the final playoff spot with three games remaining. The Lady Panthers are also just a game in the loss column behind Leonard and travel there on Tuesday night. They also play at Whitewright to end the regular season.
“We’ve got some pressure on us,” Van Alstyne head coach Tyler Dyer said. “We could finish anywhere from third to fifth. The game Tuesday is really, really big.”
Going up against a bigger opponent in Howe didn’t help the Lady Panthers’ guard-heavy lineup. The three-pointers weren’t falling, there were hardly any second-chance opportunities and when the Lady Bulldogs were missing shots, they pulled down 16 offensive rebounds.
Copeland and Anderson combined to put the game away when Van Alstyne tried to cut into the double-digit deficit. The Lady Panthers were down 37-25 less than a minute into the fourth before the Howe duo scored all the points in a 12-3 run. Copeland converted a three-point play and Anderson hit a three from the right corner. Her two free throws with 3:25 remaining pushed the lead to 21 and it crested a few moments later at 24 on a Landry Sanders’ layup.
Howe had built an 18-point advantage in the closing minutes of the third thanks to the trio of Honore, Harvey and Copeland.
But Tinsley Love responded with a three from the top of the key as part of a 6-0 burst and Van Alstyne was down by 12 going to the final eight minutes.
The Lady Bulldogs were up by 11 at half-time when the second quarter turned into a slog and both teams only produced five points. Van Alstyne got off to a quick start on buckets from Henderson and Welch but then went scoreless for the next five-plus minutes, notching only a free throw by Riddick for the 21-10 deficit at the intermission.
Trinity Williams converted a three-point play with just under two minutes to go in the half for the only field goal in the frame by the Lady Bulldogs. Harvey hit a pair of free throws in the opening two minutes for the other scoring.
Howe held a 16-5 lead at the end of the first quarter. Harvey led the way with nine points during the frame and Anderson chipped in five, including a three.
Welch hit a three-pointer and had Van Alstyne’s only other basket in the quarter.