MERRILLVILLE | The one constant at girls basketball practice in Merrillville this week has been defense.
Defensive drills, defensive learning, defensive pressure.
The Pirates, despite beating teams by an average of 26 points, still needed to focus on defense, coach Amy Govert said.
"We finally decided to play aggressive defense tonight; this is what I've been waiting for all season," Govert said Friday after Merrillville beat Duneland Athletic Conference foe Chesterton 71-27. "The pressure and the rotation needed to be better. We've been a step behind and gambling too much. ... They could see the play but they weren't reacting in time. So we went back to basics."
The home team played almost exclusively half-court man-to-man pressure, taking Chesterton (2-2, 1-2) out of its game.
The Pirates (5-0, 3-0) forced the Trojans into 34 turnovers, including 20 in the first half. Merrillville senior Raveen Murray finished with a game-high eight steals to join her 11 points.
"They prevented us from doing just about everything we wanted to do," Chesterton coach Jack Campbell said. "Even the few shots we got, nearly everything was contested."
Merrillville jumped to a 19-5 lead through the first quarter and held the Trojans without a point until the 4:35 point of the second quarter. Chesterton finished 7-of-36 from the field as nine of the Trojans' 27 points came from the free-throw line.
In addition to defense, Merrillville's practices this week were geared toward a weekend of back-to-back games that ends today as the Pirates host state-ranked No. 4 Elkhart Memorial.
"We felt that we played really good defense, and bring just as much (today)," said sophomore A.J. Downs, who led the Pirates with 13 points. "We just have to bring it. We know what they've got and we've got to play really, really hard."
Freshman Victoria Gaines chipped in 10 points with 10 rebounds.
Chesterton senior Lindsay Gorman's 14 points led all scorers.
"Hopefully now they can start believing in themselves that they can shut down teams," Govert said.