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Girls basketball: Bulldogs take care of business against Lincoln

Feb. 7—OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa High School girls basketball team had a point to prove on Tuesday night.

With one last chance to make an impression on the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union just one day before the Class 5A regional pairings are released, the 15th-ranked Bulldogs kicked into high gear in their sixth game in the past nine days. Ottumwa put up 77 shots, sank 14 from 3-point range and collected 26 steals moving up and down the court at will on the way to an 85-48 Iowa Alliance Conference south division win over Des Moines Lincoln on Tuesday at Evans Middle School Gymnasium.

Now the question for the IGHSAU is this when considering if the Bulldogs deserve to host a regional semifinal. Does a 15-3 overall record and a recent eight-game winning streak that was good enough to lift Ottumwa into a statewide ranking trump a disappointing 42-34 loss at Des Moines Roosevelt last Friday in what was the fourth road game in five days?

"You always tell the girls not to leave things to chance and take care of the things we need to take care of," Ottumwa head girls basketball coach Joe Vandenberg said. "Outside of one quarter at Roosevelt, I think we've taken care of a lot of things."

Ottumwa spread the wealth around with four players reaching double figures in the contest. Nellie Morgan got things started for the Bulldogs, scoring 10 of her 15 points in the opening quarter including a pair of 3-pointers from the corner as Ottumwa opened a 13-3 lead.

"I don't really shoot a lot of 3-pointers, but knowing that we have someone as big as (Carlee) Julius waiting in the lane, I had to be confident in the perimeter," Morgan said. "Hitting a couple of shots early boosted my confidence and boosted the confidence of the rest of my teammates."

Julius, standing at 6-3, was a presence that Ottumwa respected even from the opening tip as the Lincoln senior was essentially conceded the tip-off by Brylee Jaeger. While Julius used her size to pull in 19 rebounds as part of a double-double effort for the Railsplitters, Ottumwa was able to limit the senior center to just 10 points by making it tough on Lincoln simply to get the ball into the paint by getting hands in the passing lanes up the court and around the perimeter.

"They kind of live in that mantra that you can't turn the ball over if you shoot it. I think that's what led to a lot of quick shots from the perimeter instead of passes into the post," Vandenberg said. "They could have definitely exposed that against us. The way we ran our half-court defense limited her (Julius) touches. They probably knew that was coming and they focused more on getting up shots from the outside."

Lincoln was able to sink enough shots to produce the second-highest point total allowed by Ottumwa's defense, just seven points shy of fifth-ranked (4A) Mason City's 55-point total scored against the Bulldogs at Wells Fargo Arena back on Jan. 4. Leiah Ochoa led the Railsplitters with 17 points, sinking three of Lincoln's eight made 3-pointers, helping cut Ottumwa's lead to 41-27 early in the second half.

The Bulldogs, however, countered with their highest-scoring single-game effort in over two decades. Miya Fuller took her turn to ignite the Ottumwa offense in the second quarter, scoring 13 of her 21 points in the final eight minutes of the first half including a trio of 3-pointers that helped the Bulldogs build a 41-25 halftime lead.

"Everyone's good at sharing the ball. Nobody is selfish on our team," Fuller said. "When anyone gets open, we're passing the ball and getting it to them."

Camdyn Crouse, Ottumwa's leading scorer on the season, came alive in the third quarter after scoring just five points in the first half. The Bulldog junior drove the baseline for a pull-up jumper over Julius for Ottumwa's first points of a 44-point second half, scoring 11 of her game-high 24 points in the period helping OHS stretch its lead out to 59-40 heading into the fourth quarter.

"We knew coming in that we had to be smart going up against (Julius). She's a big presence in the post and she's going to be able to block our shots if we get in too close," Crouse said. "We needed to be good from around the arc and take it to the hoop strong. I think we did that in the second half."

Ottumwa's 24th quarter of basketball in the past nine days proved to be one of its best on both ends of the floor. The Bulldogs held Lincoln (5-15, 5-6 Iowa Alliance)) to just three field goals over the final eight minutes, scoring 20 of the first 22 points in the closing frame nearly doubling their 19-point advantage with four steals leading directly to transition lay-ups.

"We always go into a game wanting to play our best," Crouse said. "Knowing that it's Lincoln, knowing that it's a conference game, we knew we wanted to come out and play the best basketball we could."

Alli Goedken, coming off a career-high 19-point effort on Monday against Mount Pleasant, scored 15 points for Ottumwa sinking five shots from 3-point range as the Bulldogs finished shooting 14-33 from beyond the arc and 33-77 overall from the field.

No. 15 (5A) Ottumwa (15-3, 10-1 Iowa Alliance) hosts Ames on Thursday before hosting Des Moines East on Friday. With a win over the Scarlets, the Bulldogs would clinch at least a share of the Iowa Alliance south division title.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.