Howard tonight: Lions or lambs? Whitman is foe in state semifinal

March 11, 1993|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

Craig O'Connell has no idea what to expect when his Howard Lions face the Walt Whitman Vikings in tonight's Class 3A girls basketball semifinal at UMBC.

O'Connell isn't alone. The Lions, who are making their first state tournament appearance, have been wildly unpredictable this season.

This is a team that lost to South Carroll, blew out the Cavaliers two weeks later by 30 points, then struggled for three quarters before beating them handily in the regionals last week.

This is a team that lost to Mount Hebron in January by 39, then handed the Vikings their only regular-season loss in the county a month later.

This is a team that got whipped by Hammond in January, then took an 18-point lead at halftime before losing two weeks ago to the defending 2A champion Bears, 50-48.

"We've gone through all of the emotions this year," said O'Connell, in his fifth season.

Last year, Howard lost to eventual state champion Linganore in the regionals. Two years ago, the Lions lost to Oakland Mills in the regional finals.

This year, the Lions (19-6) have overcome blowouts, tough losses and once again have been reminded of how invaluable senior point guard Camille Powell is.

When Powell went down with a sprained ankle in the opening minutes of the first Hebron game, it triggered Hebron's 64-25 rout. While Powell sat out to nurse the ankle, the Lions barely beat last-place Centennial, then got beat by Oakland Mills.

Howard enters the 9 p.m. game with a 7-1 record in its past eight games. If Howard beats Whitman (22-2) and goes on to win the state crown, Powell probably will play a huge role. A four-year starter, she already owns school records for career assists and steals, and she comes into the tournament averaging 11.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 7.5 steals.

"If she didn't score a point, she'd still be awesome," O'Connell said. "She's been doing everything for us for so long."

Most importantly, Powell leads a defense that is the key to the Lions' success. Howard is only shooting 35 percent, but the Lions negate that with a hustling defense that forces turnovers and creates easy baskets in transition.

Offensively, Howard gets consistent production from its starters. Besides Powell, Sharon Ford (14.0 points, 5.2 rebounds), Emily Moore (10.8 ppg, 5.2 rebounds) and Mona Jackson (10.3 ppg, 8.4 rebounds) present scoring and rebounding threats.

Freshmen Megan Boehm and Tresa Silcott also have made their presence felt lately. In playoff victories over South Carroll, Walbrook and Northwestern, Silcott had 27 points and 25 rebounds. Boehm grabbed 16 rebounds.

Howard must overcome two familiar shortcomings -- height and depth. Howard's average height is 5-7, and the Lions hope their quickness can pull them through for two more games.

Howard will encounter some matchup problems against Whitman, which also is making its first state title appearance under coach Kerry Ward. Whitman lost in the regional finals for three straight years before breaking through to the states this season.

Whitman's starters average 5-9, and the Vikings are led by senior 6-1 forward Lindsay Seawright, who is headed to Wake Forest on a basketball scholarship. Seawright leads the team in scoring (18.8), rebounding (8.8) and blocked shots (1.6). She is shooting 56.4 percent from the floor.

"She [Seawright] doesn't look tough, but she is a warrior-type," Ward said. "If you've got a cannon, don't hide it, fire it. That's what we want to do."

Although O'Connell prefers a man-to-man alignment, the Lions have resorted to zone defenses successfully. They'll probably have to use them to keep the ball away from Seawright.

"We'll try to bother her [Seawright]. We'll try everything in our arsenal," O'Connell said. "We'll keep mixing it up."

Whitman is not a one-player show, however. Guards Courtney Gaine (15.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 steals, 2.9 assists) and Molly Hughes (6.7 points, 2.3 assists) shoot and distribute the ball well, and forward Vanessa Wolfman gives Seawright help on the boards, where she averages 5.6 rebounds.

The Vikings, who average 55 points, prefer to work the ball to Seawright out of their half-court offense and like to rattle opponents with traps out of their half-court defense.

Tonight's semifinal figures to be decided by three factors: how well Whitman handles Howard's pressure defense, how well Howard compensates for its lack of size on the boards, and who dominates the game, Powell or Seawright.

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