Francesca Patrick likens herself to a pit bull on defense.
With a heavy heart, this “fancy” pit bull came off the bench and was relentless in her attack, as No. 14 Ellison ransacked Waco University 89-28 on Monday thanks to a season-high 19 steals — six coming courtesy of Patrick.
“It’s all about timing — that’s the most important key — once you see the ball leave their hand, it’s like a switch (goes off to) go get the ball,” Patrick said of her approach on defense. “That moment of hesitation allows you to fly right past and get the steal.”
The Lady Eagles’ defensive focus was key to their ability to put together multiple runs, including a 17-0 and 16-0 spurt over a span of four-plus minutes in both the first and second quarter, respectively.
Ellison’s first extended run ballooned a 5-3 advantage a minute and a half into the game to 22-3 over the next 4½ minutes of the first quarter as the Lady Eagles (8-1) turned all five Lady Trojan (3-5) turnovers during that span into points on their end.
Anticipating passes and with a selling-out attack on the ball, Ellison’s aggressiveness really paid off in the second quarter when University turned the ball over on 12 consecutive possessions as a 33-12 lead turned into 49-12 over a span of 4:13.
“They just have a good instinct toward the ball and they’d just get after it,” Ellison coach Sherry McKinnon said. “They were covering the passing lanes and not letting the ball get towards the middle, and they all just did a really good job of taking care of their assignments tonight.”
The Lady Eagles’ defensive pressure was never more apparent than a 21-second spurt during that run where Deja Pointer, Patrick and Jordana Porter each converted steals into fastbreak layups for themselves on back-to-back-to-back possessions.
“It’s just patience, not forcing anything, not rushing anything, just wait for timing and that’s pretty much how I play,” Patrick said.
Hitting her first nine field goal attempts, Patrick took advantage of the extended minutes for a career-high 25 points, including three 3-pointers.
But it was on defense where Patrick made the biggest impact, where intense pressure applied forced University into 27 turnovers, including 22 in the first half alone.
“Defense wins championships, and with the goals they’ve set for themselves, for the team, they’re going to play hard on defense and they’ve bought into that (mind-set),” McKinnon said.
Despite the commanding 49-15 lead at halftime, Ellison didn’t let up in the second half, opening up the third quarter on a 10-0 run and eclipsing a 50-point spread on a Patrick layup that made it 70-19 with 1:41 left in the third quarter.
The early double-digit advantage allowed McKinnon to unload her bench, creating more scoring opportunities for role players like Patrick as seven players had at least eight points, including four with nine points apiece. Pointer added 11 points, while Porter, Kenesha Saygo, Codi Simmons and Brianna Gray each contributed nine points. Gray, also coming off the bench, led Ellison with 10 rebounds, nine on the defensive end.
The Lady Eagles have dedicated the season to former student athletic trainer Chris McCullough, who died Thursday, wearing red ribbons on their shoes in remembrance.
“We all pray every day for him and his family and we made a pact that we’re going to dedicate this season to him,” Patrick said.