Bishop Ireton sophomore center Akunna Konkwo missed her team’s last game, a victory against Robinson, with a sprained ankle. She was ready to go for Thursday’s contest on the road against #7 Episcopal, but Coach Jason Harris wanted to limit her minutes. He was understandably being cautious with his 6’4″ star as WCAC games draw near, and so Konkwo did not play in the first half.
Unfortunately for Episcopal Konkwo did play in the second half. She scored 12 points in the third quarter and 15 overall, really the difference in #5 Ireton’s 48-36 win.
It at first appeared as if Coach Harris wouldn’t need Konkwo’s services, although the plan was for her to play regardless of the score in the second half. Ireton raced to an early lead behind the strong play of its guards and its pressure defense. The Cardinals (3-0) employed full-court pressure, half-court traps and both zone and man defenses to keep the Maroon (3-2) off balance and force turnovers. Bishop Ireton led comfortably after one frame, 18-9.
Then it was Episcopal’s turn to play some defense. In the second quarter the home team settled down and was able to check and rotate to Ireton’s dangerous shooters far better than they did early. The Maroon were also able to control the ball better and limit second chances for the Cardinals on the glass. Ireton only scored two in the frame, and after juniors Lexi Weger and Maya Goree buried three-pointers late in the quarter the game was tied at 20 at halftime.
The performance in the second quarter obviously left coach Katrina Reed happy at the time. “Defensively is where my head is right now,” she said after the game. “We have a lot of work to do on the defensive end, but when we do execute there we’ll be able to compete with a lot of teams.”
Even teams that do execute defensively might not be able to do much with Konkwo, however. She started the second half and her impact was felt immediately. Ireton ran a crisp give-and-go style offense with Konkwo as the focal point. Konkwo got to the rim, sliding to the block with ease. She got put-backs. She dished out assists. Her presence inside opened up the Cardinals’ options from three-point range again. Even though the star center looked a little less than 100%, she still dominated.
Ireton led 38-27 after three quarters and never looked back. The Maroon played hard the whole way and fired up the home crowd at several points with inspired play, but Episcopal simply wasn’t efficient enough from the field to overtake Ireton. Weger scored 16 points and Goree 11, but they accounted for 75% of the offense. It just wasn’t enough against one of the best teams in Northern Virginia.
While Konkwo was as usual, magnificent, teams around the region would be making a major mistake to discount the rest of the Ireton squad. Konkwo’s fellow sophomore, Sydney Peters, hit five three-point shots on the night. Do-everything senior point guard Kennedy Fairfax was just as active on defense she was as on offense, where she contributed seven points, five rebounds and four assists. Plus when Konkwo was out, everybody pounded the glass.
Coach Harris believes his team’s experience without Konkwo will help his team in the long run. “What it does is it forces everybody to step their games up,” he said. “They have to be a little more aggressive offensively when she’s not in the game, and that’s good for the long-term.”
That’s probably true. But it’s also true that his sophomore center is one of the most impressive players around, and Harris no doubt prefers his team grow with her, as opposed to without her.
all stats are unofficial
|Three Pointers: Weger 2-4, Goree 1-4, Shepherd 0-3, Buyck 0-1|
|Three Pointers: Peters 5-11, Shackelford 1-4, Fairfax 1-6, Kennard 0-1, Phillips 0-1, Deans 0-1|