Ford II rides fourth-best defense in MAC to 13-1 mark

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 5, 2013

 The Utica Ford II girls basketball team is eyeing a MAC Red title after finishing last in the league last season. Pictured is Falcons senior point guard Cris Harper.

The Utica Ford II girls basketball team is eyeing a MAC Red title after finishing last in the league last season. Pictured is Falcons senior point guard Cris Harper.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

STERLING HEIGHTS — Just a little more than a month into the season, the Utica Ford II girls basketball team had already eclipsed last year’s win total.

A 54-24 win over Clinton Township Chippewa Valley Jan. 10 gave the Falcons their ninth win of the campaign after managing just eight all of last season. 

Ford II (13-1, 5-1 Macomb Area Conference Red Division at press time) has also surpassed its win total in MAC Red play. The Falcons went 3-9 in league games last year, putting them last in the Red. A 49-46 triumph over Romeo High Jan. 18 put Ford II over that number.

Ford II was in second place, behind Grosse Pointe South, in the Red. The Falcons fell to South Jan. 22 in a road game 55-33. The rematch is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 15 at Ford.

The return of all five starters and the emergence of senior center Ashley Mickens, a transfer from Utica Stevenson, has played a major role in the team’s success, according to coach Matt Joseph.

Mickens, in her fourth year as a varsity player, leads Ford II, averaging 13.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Another fourth-year player, point guard Cris Harper, paces the Falcons’ offense.

“Experience is a huge factor. This team has great chemistry. Everyone gets along really well, and they really enjoy playing together,” said Joseph, in his ninth year with Ford II.

“I saw the potential in the team during workouts this past summer. Everyone put in a lot of time and work, and we had the most participation in summer workouts I’ve seen. That proved to me they were serious about getting better and turning things around.”

“We’ve worked really hard since I got here,” Mickens said. “Everybody gives 100 percent every day in practice, and that’s translating into how we play games.”

The Falcons’ defense has played a major role in that turnaround. Joseph stresses defense each day in practice, which is paying off on the score sheet. Ford II’s 35.1 points-per-game allowed is good for fourth in the entire 36-team MAC. The Falcons ranked 27th in that category last season.

Ford II’s 51.2 points per game is good for seventh in the overall MAC. The Falcons run a four out, one in set that features four guards and Mickens. The approach allows for crisp passes around the perimeter and frees up Mickens to roam the post.

“We preach defense here. That’s what I’ve always done,” Joseph said. “We have good speed and we can trap and rotate with all the guards we have. And if (the opposition) gets past our guards, they still have to try to score over (Mickens).”

Even though she’s new to the team, Mickens has relished taking on a leadership role. She said working out with the team last summer allowed her to open up and be herself. She said team unity — more than game plan or scheme — is vital to success.

“I think that’s how we win games. We know all 13 girls on this team have each other’s back,” Mickens said. “Even the girls who don’t play much are always cheering everybody on, and that camaraderie is key.”

Joseph said playing in the MAC Red serves the Falcons well in prepping them for the postseason. Ford II’s highest finish in league play in the last five seasons has been second place (2010-11).

The Michigan High School Athletic Association state girls basketball playoffs begin Feb. 25.

“We’ve got six league games left, and I’m excited about all of them,” Joseph said. “We may win the league and we may not, but I know we’ll go into the playoffs ready.”

The Falcons next hit the hardwood for a matchup with Utica Stevenson, set for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Stevenson.