Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
WARMINSTER — It would have been a ridiculous assignment for anyone except Bri Bowen.
Originally, the plan was for the Archbishop Wood senior and Delaware recruit to spend part of Saturday's game against Long Island Lutheran defending Paris Clark, the Crusaders' outstanding senior guard heading to Arizona, and the other parts of the game defending 6-foot-5 sophomore Kate Koval, a talented post player drawing plenty of Division I interest. Unfortunately, an injury prevented Clark from playing, but it merely allowed the Vikings to unleash Bowen on everyone else the New York powerhouse had on the floor.
Wood's defensive ace had another outstanding effort as the Vikings topped the Crusaders 58-43 to pick up their first win of the season.
Bri Bowen (above) finished the game with 14 points and six rebounds. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
"I was prepared for both of them," Bowen said. "With the big girl, the main assignment was keeping her out of the lane and always keeping a body on her under the basket, so that's what I had to do."
Bowen is listed at 5-foot-9 on Wood's roster and, while there was an eight-inch different in printed heights between her and Koval on Saturday, defending taller players has never been a problem for the Vikings senior. Last year, Bowen's defense on Maggie Doogan was a key factor in the PCL championship game and whatever she may give up in height, Bowen makes up for in fight.
It's always been in her mentality to put defense first, and the senior takes immense pride in her strength and her versatility, which only makes her a more dedicated defender. Saturday, she was just as comfortable dueling for position in the lane as she was blitzing a ball-handler out past the arc because it's all part of the drill being her team's stopper.
"Even when I was younger, I'd always get the toughest defensive assignment," Bowen said. "I always go after the ball, I've always put defense first and that feeds into how I play. I'm very aggressive, I'm physical and I don't care if you like me or not, when I'm out there, I'm going to be physical."
Wood coach Mike McDonald had no hesitation about asking Bowen to go from defending speed to defending size had Clark been able to play. The list of players Bowen has matched up with over the years is quite impressive and her ability to cover anyone has been a critical component of the Vikings' success in her three years with the program.
A Third Team All-PCL selection last season, Bowen said she doesn't play for individual accolades and isn't worried where she's rated among players in the league, the area and beyond. Ask her coach or her teammates however, and they are quick to come to her defense as not getting enough credit.
"Her toughness, I feel like it's very underrated," senior guard Ryanne Allen said. "She does all the things people don't see. I've been playing with her since fourth grade and she's been the same player the entire time.
"I'm taking her with me anywhere. She's the one you want next to you."
On the offensive end, Bowen has grown considerably since arriving at Archbishop Wood. She had a solid line against Long Island Lutheran, scoring 14 points with seven rebounds and three assists, grabbing four boards off the offensive glass.
McDonald said it's Bowen's physicality that makes her such an interchangeable defensive piece and also lauded the senior's court awareness and IQ.
"Her versatility is unbelievable and it's irreplaceable, the value she has for us," McDonald said. "She's one of the toughest kids I've ever coached but she also has great instincts and a high IQ. She understands angles, she knows how to read a player, pick out their strengths and work to take those away."
Ryanne Allen (above) had a game-high 19 points. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Bowen had five points in the opening quarter as Wood opened up a 17-10 lead and finished strong with five in the fourth quarter. She also had two important assists, the first on a 3 by Allen that ended a Crusaders run late in the third quarter and the other going to Allie Fleming for a 3 that snapped a cold streak opening the final frame and gave Wood a 15-point advantage.
For most people, not having to match up with a top recruit going to one of the best teams in the country would be a relief. For Bowen, it was a bit of a disappointment that she didn't to match up with Clark. The Wood senior actually has played against Clark before, but it had been a few years since they met on the AAU circuit and Bowen wanted to see how she stacked up now.
She'll have more challenges coming as the Vikings continue their difficult nonleague schedule before jumping into the PCL when January rolls around.
"In the end, you want to win a championship," Bowen said. "A lot of people tell me I'm underrated, it's more scoring that gets the attention than some of the other stats like rebounds or forcing a turnover, but that's what I like to do."
Allen finished with a game-high 19 points, with the Vanderbilt recruit posting eight in the opening frame and connecting on four 3-point shots in the contest. Beyond her and Bowen, it was a solid all-around game for the Vikings, with nine players scoring a point, assists coming on 11 of 18 made field goals and different lineups keeping up the same energy on defense.
Fleming, who got the start and was tenacious guarding Emma Von Essen and Uta Nakamura, scored eight points, while sophomore Ava Renninger was a spark off the bench with six points. Deja Evans, who shared duties guarding Koval, had six rebounds and held her own in the post.
"We played nine kids, they all went in and understood the game plan, were there in help defense and made it really hard on them," McDonald said. "That's all we can do is make it hard, especially on someone with that kind of size advantage but I'm really proud of everyone who stepped out there and how they handled it."
ARCHBISHOP WOOD: 17 | 13 | 13 | 15 || 58
LONG ISLAND LUTHERAN: 10 | 9 | 12 | 12 || 43
AW: Ryanne Allen 19, Bri Bowen 14, Allie Fleming 8, Ava Renninger , Delaney Finnegan 4, Kara Meredith 2, Emily Knouse 2, Deja Evans 2, Shannon Morgan 1
LIL: Kate Koval 15, Diora Ressaissi 15, Emma Van Essen 6, Lena Rodriguez 5, Uta Nakamura 2
Reading handles La Salle
Following the lead of Daniel Alcantara, Reading's defense made La Salle's afternoon pretty difficult as the Red Knights picked up a 52-32 win on Saturday.
The 6-foot-5 senior was outstanding offensively, scoring 28 points from all three levels while Reading's relentless pressing defense just wore out the Explorers. Alcantara had nine points in the opening quarter and with the Red Knights opening an 8-0 lead to start the game, it was exactly what the defending PIAA 6A champions were looking for.
"We watched film, took note of their strengths and weaknesses, so we knew what we had to do, it was just a matter of executing it," Alcantara said. "I feel like we did a good job executing it. We pour our heart out on the floor every time, on offense and defense, so that's a main reason why we're so successful because we play for each other, play for the city and play for something bigger than basketball."
Sam Brown led La Salle with 12 points. The Explorers were able to hang around most of the game, but a six-point outburst by Alcantara to start the fourth helped stretch the lead out and he scored the final six points of the game for the Red Knights to cap off the performance.
READING: 18 | 9 | 9 | 16 || 52
LA SALLE: 9 | 7 | 8 | 8 || 32
R: Daniel Alcantara 28, Ruben Rodriguez 7, Myles Grey 7, Xavier Davis 4, Joey Chapman 2, Amier Burdine 2, Justin Walker 2
LS: Sam Brown 12, Horace Simmons 11, Nix Varano 6, Ryan Sorge 3