Knights’ winning streak continues; South falls in regional play

By: Thomas Franz | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 13, 2014

 University Liggett freshman guard Nia Ahart dribbles past Bishop Foley’s Juliana Aiuto during the regional semifinal game on March 4.

University Liggett freshman guard Nia Ahart dribbles past Bishop Foley’s Juliana Aiuto during the regional semifinal game on March 4.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

They call it the “Red Storm.”

It’s the philosophy and game plan University Liggett coach Omar Ahart has been using since he took over the Knights a year ago, and it has wreaked havoc on opponents this season.

In a regional semifinal game against Bishop Foley March 4, Liggett ran past the Ventures from the opening tip on its way to a convincing 61-36 victory over the Catholic League C-D champions.

Liggett sprinted to a 19-4 lead against the bigger and taller Ventures, but the Knights’ speed proved to be more than enough to make up the height deficit. The Knights once held a 30-point lead in the third quarter on their way to winning their 16th consecutive game by 10 or more points.

“Every year, that’s why you see our shirts that say the ‘Red Storm.’ That’s how we play; that’s how I’ve been coaching since I can remember. That’s the way college basketball is; it’s up-tempo, it’s fast,” Ahart said following his team’s win against Foley.

Lauren Ristovski and Kendall McConico each scored 14 points for Liggett, while junior Jessica Rotzoll led all scorers with 15 points for the Knights.

Liggett went on to play Brown City in a regional final, and the Knights used a strong second half to win 58-47 and advance to the state quarterfinals.

Rotzoll scored 18 points and had 15 rebounds to pace the Knights, who also got contributions from Ristovski (18 points) and freshman point guard Nia Ahart (12 points).

The addition of Nia Ahart to this year’s starting five has helped tie together a talented core of players for Liggett, explained the second-year coach.

“The missing component from last year was the point guard. Nia Ahart, the freshman, came in and she kind of gets them going. She passes first, shoots second, and that’s what makes our team jell together,” Omar Ahart said. “We kind of feed off of the point guard and off of Rotzoll’s outside shooting.”

Omar Ahart said that having a smaller lineup hasn’t been a bad thing this season. Liggett hasn’t lost since early January, and one of their three losses this year came by six points to Grosse Pointe South, which was ranked in the top 10 for Class A all season.

What Liggett lacks in height, it makes up for in speed, and that has allowed the Knights to play to Omar Ahart’s philosophy of  “win by 40 or lose by 40.”

“We’re outsized in every game, but just being able to turn the guards out — because right now this game is all about guards. If your guards can’t dribble, then you’re in trouble. That plays in our advantage. The bigger you are, you have to check our guards, too. Speed kills — that’s the old adage,” Omar Ahart said.

Liggett went on to play undefeated and top-ranked Blissfield in a state quarterfinal at Whitmore Lake on March 11, after press time. The quarterfinal winner takes on the winner of McBain/St. Ignace LaSalle in a Class C state semifinal on March 13 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Blue Devils fall to Mercy in regional semifinal
In a highly anticipated between two of the top three-ranked teams in the state for Class A, Grosse Pointe South fell 73-60 to Farmington Hills Mercy.

Mercy took the action to South in the opening quarter, as the Marlins sprinted to a 25-8 lead at one point late in the first quarter.

South used a strong third quarter to make it a 43-41 Mercy lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Marlins went on a decisive 16-2 to start the fourth and put the game away.

“I thought we came out a little flat. It took us a while to get going, but that’s a credit to them. They moved the ball very well as a team, and it was a tough matchup,” South coach Kevin Richards said.

Aliezza Brown led the Blue Devils with 19 points, and junior guard Cierra Rice had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Senior Bre’Nae Andrews scored all 15 of her points in the second half.

“Our kids had a lot of pride and tried to battle back. I’ll give them credit; we asked them to get it to six at the start of the fourth, and they got it to two. But I also think we spent a lot of energy, because early on in the fourth, we had quite a few plays where we had a couple missed blockouts that led to baskets, and they had a girl go end to end when we didn’t stop the ball. So I think, some of those possessions, we were tired,” Richards said.

South closed the season with a 22-2 record that included an undefeated mark in MAC Red play.

Andrews was the lone senior on the South roster this year.