The Topeka High girls basketball team improved to 2-0 (2-0) with an 82-24 win over Junction City, 0-3 (0-2) in their home opener on Tuesday night.
Topeka High led 30-5 after the first quarter and 50-20 at halftime as a full-court press to start the game gave Junction City fits. Junction City had 13 turnovers in the first quarter alone.
"First half, our offense was flowing. The cuts were there," said Topeka High head coach Hannah Alexander. "I think they're really getting used to playing with each other. You could see that tonight. They were clicking on all cylinders, ball movement was phenomenal."
After a road win to open the season, we wanted to check in on the 6A state runners-up as they work to replace Standford softball commit NiJa Canady, who chose to forgo her senior year of basketball to focus on preparing for college softball.
— Seth Kinker (@SethKinker) December 8, 2021
Basketball is a team game, but replacing a player who averaged a double-double in all three years means others will have to step up.
"I just think that they all know we’ll need a little something extra," said Alexander. "Everybody. Not just one person. I think everyone has stepped up their level of play.
Here are three takeaways from Topeka High's 58-point win over Junction City.
Tae Thomas, Kiki Smith and Faith Shields will drive this team
Last season, Canady averaged a team-high 20.6 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game while adding 1.1 assists per game, 2.5 steals per game and 1.8 blocks per game.
Senior guard Tae Thomas, a Northwestern Oklahoma State commit, and junior guard Kiki Smith are the two returning starters with seven other players back from last year's team.
Last year, Smith averaged 15.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3 apg and 2.8 spg while Thomas added 6.6 ppg and 2.9 apg.
In their 63-41 win over Manhattan, Thomas (21), Smith (17) and junior guard Faith Sheilds (13) combined for 51 of the team's 63 points.
Thomas had a team-high eight rebounds, Smith had a team-high nine assists and Shields added three rebounds.
Against Junction City, Smith led the team with 19 points and eight rebounds, Thomas added 10 and Shields had seven.
Finding the right lineup
In previewing the season, Alexander said there would be tough decisions to make as far as personnel and starting lineups. And that was before Canady decided to forgo the season.
On Tuesday night, they rolled out a starting lineup of Thomas, Smith, Sheilds, senior forward DayShauna Wiley and junior forward Adisyn Caryl.
"That starting group is really clicking and it's fun to watch them play," said Alexander.
But she also made it clear nothing is set in stone, especially with COVID still a factor.
Wiley, senior Jada Fulton and freshman Jo'Mhara Benning are the three centers Topeka High is rotating with not a lot of quality game time experience between the three. Alexander is high on all three, however.
"I think the three post rotation we have right now is really working for us," said Alexander. "One of them is a freshman so she had no experience, nor did she have a middle school season. There's a lot of learning going on and they’re doing a great job buying in."
Off the bench, Topeka High will be looking for players to step up past their starting five.
After no points were scored from sophomore guards Ladaysha Baird and Ayana Leesman against Manhattan, Baird finished second on the team with 17 points on 8-11 shooting off the bench while Leesman added 13 on 5-6 shooting against Junction City.
"She was on fire," Alexander said of Baird.
Alexander also said sophomore Avery Zimmerman should make an impact as a defensive specialist.
"She’s a hustler. She does whatever we ask of her," said Alexander of Zimmerman. "She’s a soccer player originally, so she’s used to running and running."
Falling in love with the right defense
Alexander didn't use the press against Manhattan, not knowing how the depth of the team would shake out with the team needing to work on a couple of things defensively.
But it was on display right away against Junction City. It paid dividends as the team led by 25 points after the first quarter, with easy buckets coming as a result of pressing, trapping and forcing turnovers.
As the game went on, Topeka High tried different defenses as they look to find what's right.
"I wanted to see what our diamond press looked like tonight," said Alexander. "We have some half-court stuff we're trying to do, some traps here and there. With our depth, we have to make sure we can’t get in foul trouble.
"We have to get into a defense we like and love and were using these first few games to try different things and see what we fall in love with."
Contact Seth Kinker at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SethKinker.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Topeka High girls basketball beats Junction City, moves to 2-0