Defense carries Bishop Canevin, Laurel into WPIAL Class 2A girls title game

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 | 8:12 PM

The old saying about defense winning championships is ringing true in the WPIAL Class 2A girls basketball playoffs.

No. 2 Bishop Canevin and No. 4 Laurel face off for the championship at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Petersen Events Center. Both teams reached the title game thanks to tough-nosed defense. The Spartans have the third-lowest points against average in Class 2A at 35.2 points per game. The Crusaders allow 38 points per game, the sixth-lowest average.

Bishop Canevin (18-6) enters the game playing some of its best basketball of the season. The Crusaders have lost only two games since January. And those were to two of the top squads in the WPIAL — Class 5A Chartiers Valley and Class A West Greene, both of whom will be playing for championships this weekend.

The team’s success starts on defense.

“Our offense is driven by our defense,” Bishop Canevin coach Jim Kaczorowski said. “We do some pressing. We work in some half-court defense. It all helps with our transition game and scoring.”

Bishop Canevin advanced to the title game after beating Ellis School, 46-44, in the semifinals.

The dynamic senior duo of Diajha Allen and Alyssa Pollice lead the team. Pollice, a Westminster recruit, averages more than 18 points per game. Allen, a St. Francis (Pa.) recruit, averages more than 17 points per game.

“They are the first ones in the gym for practice,” Kaczorowski said. “They want to shoot before we start practice. They’ve helped the younger players understand what needs to be done. They are like two coaches on the court.”

The Crusaders starting five also features juniors Savanah Abbott and Rutanya Taylor along with sophomore Lauren Kirsch.

In the semifinals, the Spartans (17-7) held Serra Catholic to just 32 points — 26 points below the Eagles’ season average.

“The girls bought in,” Laurel coach Matt Stebbins said. “They bring intensity to the court. We have some young girls who are great defenders. Defense is one of our trademarks.”

Laurel’s discipline on defense comes from a squad playing well beyond its years. The Spartans start three freshmen – Regan Atkins, Danielle Pontius and Reese Bintrim.

“We’ve definitely evolved as the season has gone on,” Stebbins said. “It’s remarkable to see the progression of the young players.”

Despite the youthful roster, a pair of seniors have given the starting five a boost. Faith Gibson has been a starter since her freshman season. Mikyla Slater jumped into the lineup in her sophomore season.

The Spartans are scoring 50.8 points per game.

The teams enter the title game with some familiarity with each other. Bishop Canevin hosted Laurel on Jan. 11 and scored a 59-51 win. Despite the victory, Kaczorowski believes it has no bearing on the championship game.

“(Pontius) didn’t play in that game,” Kaczorowski said. “With her, they’re a completely different team. They played really good defense and are scrappy. Their coach does a heck of a job.”

Bishop Canevin has won four WPIAL titles, including three straight from 2016-18. This is the first WPIAL title game appearance for Laurel.

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