Urbana coach Joe Blaser delved deeply into the past and thought of two fictional characters to describe long-armed forward Paige Clausen.
“Gumby. Stretch Armstong,” Blaser said Thursday at Urbana.
The Hawks’ girls basketball team had just used a 1-2-2 full-court press against Winters Mill, and Clausen’s long arms at the top of the press intercepted numerous passes in the backcourt, flustering the Falcons as the Hawks cruised to a 60-39 victory.
Clausen relishes pressuring opponents’ inbound passes after Urbana makes a basket.
“[I enjoy it] because I’m really long — I feel that speeds them up, and I get in their face,” Clausen said.
Clausen single-handedly blanketed Winters Mill during an early stretch in the third quarter that spanned less that 2 minutes. The junior forward made five steals in the backcourt, leading to six of her 16 points and a 3-pointer by Hannah Orens. A 17-point lead quickly became 24.
“It seems like her arms and hands go forever,” Blaser said. “Girls at practice don’t like when Paige is on them [defensively] because it’s hard to feed the post; it’s hard to go around her.”
The Hawks (8-4) struggled mightily from the field in the first quarter, making just 5 of 21 shots (23.8 percent). But they could fall back on a full-court press that forced 10 turnovers as Winters Mill (4-6) attempted just eight shots in the period. Again, Clausen headed that stinginess.
“Honestly, when I think of the game, [defense] is my core,” said Clausen, who also pulled down 10 rebounds. “I’ve always been taught from a young age that defense is where it starts.”
As for the introduction of the press at the beginning of the season, Blaser uses it a tool to simply play with pace and make the game more enjoyable for his players.
“As a player, I always liked to get out and just go,” said Blaser, who played basketball, soccer and baseball at Middletown. “We try to take the reigns off of them a little bit and let great athletes, great players do their thing — get them out in space, let them get their hands on it and go finish.”
Urbana won convincingly despite playing without leading scorer Carmen Kweti, who sprained her ankle Tuesday in the team’s win over Westminster. Blaser said Kweti is expected to miss between two and three weeks.
Clausen is part of an imposing front line that includes Meghan DeGrouchy and Emma McCaskill. Degrouchy grabbed six rebounds, and McCaskill had five.
“With Carmen missing, we all needed to step up,” Clausen said.