Unkrich, Larson advance to Game Time final

BY WILL MCDAVID | JULY 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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For the four remaining teams in Game Time’s playoff tournament, a win Wednesday meant a place in the championship game — a loss meant viewing it from the stands.

In the first game of the league’s playoff double-header, Brendan Unkrich’s team went head-to-head with Pat McCool’s club.

From the opening tip, it was obvious that neither team was willing to give an inch. While this mutual competitive edge led the teams to battle to a virtual stalemate in the contest’s early stages, McCool’s group began to show signs of fatigue by the end of the first half, struggling to withstand its opponent’s offensive efficiency and overwhelming size.

Led by Ally Disterhoft’s 24 first-half points (she finished with 46), Unkrich’s team stormed to a 51-40 halftime lead.

“Every team that we play knows that Ally is our No. 1,” Unkrich said. “We give her a lot of freedom, and the nice thing about Ally is she doesn’t abuse those freedoms. She takes her strengths, and if they’re not there, she kicks it to the wide-open shooter.”

With the Iowa guard’s diverse offensive repertoire on full display, Disterhoft’s repeated attacks proved to be too much for her overmatched adversary. Though McCool’s squad’s bid for a Game Time championship ended in a 95-82 defeat, the players were upbeat, taking solace in the notion that they had left everything on the floor.

With Unkrich’s group’s spot in the championship assured, the second game decided who would challenge the offensive juggernaut. Though both teams entered the playoffs with 2-2 records, Randy Larson’s team faced a harrowing challenge — the absence of its star player. With an inflamed heel, Melissa Dixon was unavailable for the team’s semifinal contest.

Throughout the regular season, Larson’s squad had leaned heavily on the high-scoring Iowa senior, her long-range accuracy integral to the club’s success. With Game Time’s reigning co-MVP at the helm, Larson’s team was a title contender. Without her, the chances of overcoming Joe Johnston’s group and its talented center Bethany Doolittle were slim to none.

Despite this, Larson and Company were up to the challenge. With Dixon sitting on the sideline, her squad exploded out of the gate, running off to a double-digit lead early in the opening half.

“Obviously, we were going to have missing shots from [Dixon],” Iowa freshman Carly Mohns said. “But Jacqui Kalin obviously stepped up big, and everyone else around stepped up big, and we came out with the win.”

While Larson’s team breezed through the first-half, Johnston’s squad came charging back in the second, its run bolstered by a suddenly unstoppable Bethany Doolittle. Midway through the half, a nearly 20-point deficit was reduced to 2 points.

Though Doolittle dominated the second period of play, 28 points from Northern Iowa alumna Kalin allowed Larson’s team to weather the storm and hold on for a 80-74 victory.

“I knew Jacqui could take up some of the slack, but if Anne Visser doesn’t knock down those 3s, if Carly doesn’t do a great job on defense, if Emily [Neff] doesn’t take [Sydney] Greiner out of the game, then we don’t win,” Larson said. “It was really a team win, but the catalyst was a great player, Jacqui Kalin.”

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