MORRIS — For one team Thursday night, the first half was something to remember. For the other, it was one to forget.
The Morris girls basketball team played what coach Luke Windy called "our best half of basketball of the season" in the first 16 minutes, racing out to a 26-12 lead at intermission and holding on through the second half for a 38-34 Interstate Eight Conference victory over Ottawa.
"The first half, and the first quarter, especially, we were able to take Ottawa out of what they wanted to do on offense," Windy said. "The girls did a great job of making them uncomfortable and it got us some turnovers.
"Offensively, we just shot the ball well. We got good shots and they went in. Overall, between both offense and defense, the first half was the best overall basketball we have played all season."
Morris (7-15, 2-6) never trailed in the game. Kyla Kjellesvik scored the first basket of the contest and, after Ottawa's Bridget Stevenson tied. the Redskins went on a 6-0 run, as Autumn Schultz sandwiched a pair of baskets around a bucket by teammate Mackenzie Lind, who led Morris with 10 points. Lind also had four rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.
"It feels good to beat Ottawa after they beat us (43-36) earlier," Lind said. "And it's good to get a conference win. We played really well, especially in the first half. We worked hard on going over their plays during practice and we came out and executed."
After a pair of free throws by Ottawa's Reagan O'Fallon (10 points, 12 rebounds), Morris got a free throw from Kjellesvik, then Alexis Johnson (9 points) hit a three-pointer from well beyond the arc at the buzzer to give Morris a 12-4 lead after one quarter.
Just 30 seconds into the second, Lind converted an old-fashioned three-point play. Two minutes later, Maddie Carroll (6 points) drove for an Ottawa basket. Morris' Lainy Button then sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around a basket by Carroll to give Morris a 21-8 lead, and a driving basket by Johnson put Morris ahead 23-8. Ottawa (12-9, 5-3) got baskets from O'Fallon and Carroll around a three-pointer by Lind as Morris took a 26-12 lead into halftime.
"Morris is a very well-coached team and they were ready from the get-gp," Ottawa coach Brent Moore said. "We were lackadaisical in the first half, and Morris took it to us.
"We responded well after halftime, but the hole we were in was too big. We have a lot of youth, and we have to learn that it's not easy to go on the road and get a conference win. We hope to learn from this game and get better."
Ottawa scored the first eight points of the second half to cut the lead to 26-20 before Morris' Chloe Ostrem made a free throw with 1:59 to play in the quarter. Alexis Smith then scored on the baseline off an assist from Schuttz to put Morris ahead 29-20. O'Fallon made a free throw before the period ended and the Redskins took a 29-21 lead into the fourth.
In the fourth, a steal and layup by Johnson gave Morris a 35-25 lead with 2:24 to play. Ottawa, though, got a three-pointer from Zoe Harris and bskets by O'Fallon and Stevenson to cut it to 35-32 with less than a minute to play. Morris, which went 5 of 18 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, got single free throws from Lind and Kjellesvik to move ahead 37-32 before Gabi Krueger (9 points) scored to make it 37-34. With 5.9 seconds left Schultz hit 1 of 2 free throws to provide the final margin.
"Ottawa sped us up in the third quarter," Windy said. "They tightened it up, but we made some defensive stops and were able to be up eight going into the fourth. We haven't been in the situation to close out a game, so we are still learning how to play in close games. But I told the girls that defense will keep us in games. We kept playing defense when we had the lead.
"We didn't knock down a lot of free throws, but when we did, they came in key spots. It was a total team win. Chloe Ostrem came off the bench and did a good job, and Alexis Smith's basket in the third quarter was huge. Mackenzie Lind played a good game, and so did AJ (Johnson), Kyla and Autumn. Lainy Button hit some big baskets for us in the first half as well.
"I am proud of the girls for how hard they competed physically. They were very physical with us last game, but we did a good job of answering that tonight."