Good perimeter ball movement is the surest way to neutralize a zone defense.
Considering the season is in its infancy, one might forgive Wheaton North if it wasn't exactly crisp in that area in its first outing of the girls basketball season Friday, against Morton, which opened the game in a 3-2 zone.
But the Falcons showed midseason passing and cutting form, and the result was a relatively easy 60-43 victory over the Mustangs in the opening round of the Lyons Twp. Thanksgiving tournament.
"We practice it all the time," said senior forward Bella Mullaney, who led all scorers with 21 points and chipped in 5 rebounds. "We just put so much work into ball movement. Everything you see on the court, we do full speed in practice."
"At the beginning of every practice, we go into two lines and go with our right for 30 seconds and with our left, and we keep working it and drilling it," added junior guard Hannah Swider, who added 12 points, including 8 in the third quarter.
All that work paid off right out the gate for the Falcons. They used an 11-2 run midway through the first quarter through early second. In that stretch Wheaton North used crisp passing to set up a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Nikki Baird with 3:05 in the first and a three-point play from Mullaney with 6:08 left in the second.
It was more of the same at the end of the second quarter. The Falcons handled the zone by concocting a 9-3 run highlighted by a wide-open 3-pointer from junior guard Matti Zander -- once again, set up by crisp perimeter passing.
"I think what we really try to do is play," said Wheaton North coach Dave Eaton. "We've got a bunch of good players and they are all designed around being a team, and I think that's the thing we stress.
"I think they've really bought into the team concept, that it doesn't matter who scores as long as we score."
Morton (1-1) switched to a man defense in the second half and actually pulled to within 37-28 with 2:44 left in the third quarter. But a Baird 3 and a Swider layup off a steal, and the free throw she made when she got fouled, gave the Falcons a 43-28 lead at the period's conclusion.
The Mustangs made their first seven free throws of the fourth quarter to pull to within 51-39, but Mullaney -- who will join the Marine Corps after graduation -- put the game away with 5 points in a 9-2 Wheaton North run to end the game.
The Falcons outrebounded Morton 21-18 and forced 20 Mustangs turnovers.