NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck girls basketball team has never been one to just play out the string. No matter the record during the first half of a season, head coach Jodie Burns has always found a way to ramp it up in the second half of the year.
Five times in her seven-year tenure Burns and her girls managed to play .500 or better down the stretch. That includes a 7-3 march during the 2011-12 season when they stunned Watertown in overtime during the NVL tournament and then fell by one to Torrington in the semifinals.
And who can ever forget the shocker in T-town when Naugatuck went up to Torrington to play in the first round of the Class L state tournament in 2009. The ‘Hounds had lost twice during the season to Torrington — once by 32 points and once by 49 points. No one gave Naugatuck a chance but the Hounds pulled off the upset with a 58-54 win.
Naugatuck pulled into the third week in January struggling with a 1-7 record and managing just 29 points per game, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. For one, coach Burns never threw in the towel in her life.
“As long as our defense keeps us in games we have a chance to turn this around,” Burns said. “We go into every game thinking we can win. We have the players, they have the ability, it just comes down to confidence at this point.”
As much as the offense has struggled this season, the defense has been up to par with the best teams in the league, giving up just 37 points per game. Naugatuck has allowed 50 points just twice in eight games and has held opponents in the 30s or less five times.
Meanwhile the offense has broken the 30-point mark just once. That came in their only victory — a 60-22 win over Ansonia. Junior Nicole Boucher leads the team with 11 points per game, but is now injured and could be lost for the season.
“Now with Boucher out we can’t afford to give anything less than 100 percent effort,” Burns said. “If we see less than 100 percent effort we will put someone else in who is willing to do that. We have more than enough younger girls who are eager to jump at the chance to contribute.”
Even with Boucher out of the lineup it doesn’t mean Naugatuck can’t put points on the board. Junior Andrea Mercer has put up seven points twice and scored six points once, while scoring in every game this season.
Junior Jackie Aronin has put together back-to-back games of nine and eight points, while freshman Molly Kennedy posted an 11-point game in the win over Ansonia. Sophomore Ashley Damonde has put up games of six, five and four points, with freshman Alexis Woods contributing a five point effort.
The inside game of junior Alexandra Mezzo, who scored four points in the first game after Boucher was injured, gives Naugatuck a presence in the paint with freshman Alyssa Peterson, who has scored four points in three separate games.
The strong point of the Greyhounds’ game plan is on defense. They Greyhounds allowed only 16 points in three periods to Oxford, but still came up on the short end in a 38-21 loss last week.
Senior Taylor Campos, who has scored in six of eight games, leads the defense along with freshman Alyana Sosa. Seniors Stefanie Flores and Jami Dwy also scored in the loss to Oxford along with sophomore Abby Jang.
“What we need is to keep shooting the ball and stop looking to pass it off when our shot is there,” Burns said. “That only leads to turnovers. We missed 33 shots and turned the ball over 29 times against Barlow and only lost by eight points. If we turned the ball over four times less and took those shots it might have been a different game.”
Heading into the second half of the year, the Greyhounds are looking to spark another late-season run.
“I have always been of the philosophy that we will be a better team in the second half of the season. Our record has proved that,” Burns said. “When we face these teams a second time, we will be more experienced and a lot more confident in our abilities.”
Naugatuck kicked off one of the toughest parts of the schedule Tuesday night on the road versus Seymour. The Wildcats handed the Greyhounds a 52-39 loss as Naugy fell to 1-8 on the year. Aronin led Naugatuck with nine points and Dwy added eight.
The Greyhounds will host Holy Cross Thursday, St. Paul on Friday and Kennedy Jan. 20.