‘We don’t look like the greatest team but we do play some defense:’ St. Paul girls basketball moves to the Class M semifinals

BRISTOL – Last week, the St. Paul girls basketball team won its first game of the Class M tournament. Some players played great. Senior Becca Kelly did not.

Monday night, Kelly had a complete turnaround: 23 points and 16 rebounds in a 49-29 win over No. 7 seed Granby in a Class M quarterfinal game.

“At halftime, I was talking to (his assistant and daughter) Chelsea, I said, ‘Can we ever get everybody on the same night to play good?’” St. Paul coach Joe Mone said. “The other night, Becca had one of the worst games, I guess that’s the formula for this group – ‘Someone take a turn and just get us through to the next round.’”

On Monday night, senior guard Audrey Tice, who averages a team-leading 18 points per game, struggled offensively and had two points. She had 20 points against Immaculate in the second round.

“I wasn’t making anything (last week),” Kelly said. “That’s what’s great about our team. When some people are off, other people are on.”

St. Paul (22-3) will play third-seeded Oxford, a 54-28 winner over Northwestern Regional, in Class M semifinal game Friday at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined. St. Paul beat Oxford the one time the two teams played, 62-40 on Dec. 19.

Last year, the Falcons lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion East Hampton. This season, they won 13 of their first 14 games and then ran into Holy Cross. It was ugly, a 64-36 loss.

“The first game we got absolutely spanked,” Mone said. “It wasn’t the same team you’re watching now. I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t us. After that, we kind of focused a little more.”

A little over a week later, the two NVL teams played again. Holy Cross won 53-42.

“We were in a dogfight there ’til the last couple minutes,” Mone said. “That’s the game that made them say, ‘This is really us’ and they started playing like that.”

Then the two met in the finals of the NVL tournament. St. Paul won, 43-38.

“From the start of going into the NVL tournament to now, our defense has been the key component to our wins,” Kelly said. “Scrappy and intense defense.”

That’s what happened Monday. Junior Maddy Bielicki drew the defensive assignment of Granby’s Alyssa Bordonaro, who is playing next year at Clark University. Bordonaro had 16 points but Bielecki was harassing her the entire time.

St. Paul led 25-18 at halftime then pulled away in the third quarter. Sophomore Zola Cudjoe also had a double-double (13 rebounds, 10 points) for the Falcons.

“We don’t look like the greatest team out there, but we do play some defense,” Mone said. “We held Holy Cross to what, 38, the other night. It was ugly but it was 38. If we keep doing what we’re doing defensively, we got enough offense to scrap away and get some wins.

“Right now, they’re pretty confident. They don’t get overemotional. You watch them out there, it’s funny, we’re warming up and the other team’s cheering, clapping and our kids look like it’s the end of the world, ‘Let’s just get this going, I’m ready.’ I don’t know if that’s me, or that’s just the way they are but they are really focused right now and that’s the best you can ask for.”