LAWRENCE: Cardinal girls split OT hoops games

Sillah developing into low-post presence

By Justin Feil, The Packet Group
   In her parents’ native Sierra Leone, Zainabu Sillah’s first name means precious or welcoming.
   She tries to be neither for the Lawrence High School girls basketball team. Instead, she is trying to become an intimidating force against Cardinal opponents.
   ”I know where my role is,” said the 5-foot-11 senior forward. “I’m the big man down. I’m working on my things like rebounding and shooting so I can help the team individually.”
   Sillah did plenty of both as Lawrence split its appearance in the John Molinelli Tournament. On Friday, she had 17 points to lead the Cardinals in a 60-55 loss. On Saturday, she provided 13 points and 12 rebounds in a 68-66 win. Both games went to double overtime.
   ”The first game we should have had it,” Sillah said. “The second game, we worked hard, but we could have done better. The first game was a much better game.
   ”The first one, we left everything we had on the court,” she explained. “We knew we left everything we had. The second game, we did what we had to do (to win), but not everything we had to do. We almost lost and we could have had that game the whole time.”
   Instead, Kaitlyn Kerr kept Pennington in the contest with a game-high 49 points. Lawrence, however, countered with balance that has become its calling card. The Cardinals played without top scorer Ashley Russo, who had 12 against Hopewell, but still had four players in double figures scoring Saturday.
   Jasmine Brown led LHS with 23 points, Jen Korngut had 12 points and 13 rebounds and Lauren Raymond had 10 points.
   ”There’s not been one girl that’s dominated as far as our leading scorer,” said LHS coach Gregg Zenerovitz, whose team is 2-2. “When it comes down to it, scouting from other teams, the first person they’ll worry about is Ashley. Now there are other girls that can score. You have to worry about them as well, which is a plus.”
   Sillah is one that LHS opponents will have to increasingly watch. She is in her second year starting and developing into a better player every week.
   ”Our assistant Jaime Land has been working on her post moves with her,” Zenerovitz said. “You need a post presence. She’s developing into one. We’re pleased with where she’s at early in the season. She’s a quiet leader on the court for us. We’re happy with how she’s progressed.”
   Sillah, though, isn’t satisfied. She wants to help push the Cardinals into the state tournament and establish a new standard for the program.
   ”This year,” she said, “it’s a bigger year. It’s our last year. You have to set the record for the players coming after.”
   She and the Cardinals are trying to build a new standard. That’s why they seem more content with their double-overtime loss than a win the next night in a similar game.
   ”The first game, I fought hard,” Sillah said. “Everyone did. I was really proud of our team for the first game. There wasn’t much of a complaint the first game.”
   Against Hopewell, Lawrence battled back from an 11-point halftime deficit. They used an explosive 18-7 third quarter to tie it, then hung with the Bulldogs until the second overtime.
   ”We can always look back at this tournament, we were down and came back,” Zenerovitz said. “We won in overtime and forced a second overtime. There are a lot of positives to take out of it. It’s good experience for us.”
   Even for a veteran team, playing back-to-back double overtime games is a unique experience. Coming back better the next night just as strong is something that the Cardinals are eyeing.
   ”You come off a tough loss the night before and I didn’t know how we’d respond,” Zenerovitz said. “I didn’t think we responded all that well early, especially on the defensive end. The night before, we did well at the defensive end against Hopewell. It kept us in the game.”
   Getting off to a faster start is a concern. Not doing so already cost them one game, at Nottingham.
   ”That was a winnable game and we came out flat,” Sillah said. “The games we lost were to teams that were beatable.”
   She is hoping to be one of the players to help raise the Cardinals’ level of play. They return to action on Tuesday at Notre Dame.
   ”Zainabu, she’s an important piece of the puzzle for us,” Zenerovitz said. “She started the preseason slow for us. She’s been a force for us on the court. She barely came off the court the last two games so her conditioning is there. She’s a presence down low.
   ”She’s still working on her secondary post move. She’s working with Jaime. That’s improving. She’s gotten better. Her form shooting has gotten better. She’s progressing. We look to get her the ball. I think our guards have looked to get her the ball. That’s a key.”
   Lately, Zainabu Sillah has rewarded their trust. She has started to live up to the nickname her teammates use, ‘Bu, which is more appropriately intimidating and far scarier than her poetic given name.