CHATHAM, NJ - The pieces are starting to fit together now for Chatham girls basketball coach Joe Gaba and it's showing in the result column.
The latest piece Gaba popped into the picture on Wednesday was guard Michelle Connolly, who came off the bench to spark Chatham's 43-23 victory over Gov. Livingston in the finale of the Cougar Classic.
"It's good to have her back healthy," Gaba said. "She missed our first three games with a really bad flu/cold. She is our sixth man. She's the girl who comes in and gives us a change of pace with a lot of defensive pressure. She brings a lot more intensity when she comes in, so having her back fully healthy is a big help."
Connolly and center Veronica Kelly (11 rebounds) led the way for Chatham (4-2) with nine points apiece. The balanced attack for the Lady Cougars included eight points each from Camryn Davies and Chloe Blanc and seven from leading scorer Cassandra Falone, who was limited in this game because of foul trouble.
Lindsay Gerrato led Gov. Livingston's offense with eight points and Lindsay DiStaso and Lauren Soranno contributed six points apiece.
In the second quarter, Chatham's defensive pressure generated a 12-0 run that staked the Lady Cougars to a 21-11 advantage. Connolly was very active during that streak with a steal, a jumper for two points, a rebound that ignited a Blanc-to-Kelly fast break, a side jumper off a feed from Falone and a free throw.
"I was out of school for six days and all I did was lay in bed," Connolly said. "It was so good to be back. The past two games I was wheezing and running. Today, I just did what I always try to do in practice, steal the ball and get it up court as fast as possible."
In the third quarter, Chatham widened its lead when Davies drained a 3-pointer off a feed from Liz Ford. Blanc then used a behind-the-back dribble into the lane for two points before Davies dropped in another 3-pointer for a 33-16 bulge.
Connolly started the fourth quarter with a steal and a dash down the court for two points and then, seconds later, converted a pass from Davies for a layup in transition that pushed the lead to 37-20.
Gov. Livingston (2-3) was limited to just nine points and two baskets from the field in the second half.
"We had a pretty good game plan against them," Gaba said. "We have the capability of playing well defensively and Veronica neutralizes a lot of stuff inside. We decided to come back with our man-to-man pressure and stuck with that for most of the game."
On offense, Gaba made a conscious effort to get the 6-2 Kelly into the action early. Kelly responded with the first two baskets of the game.
"The game plan was to see how their big kid responded to Veronica," Gaba said. "Our game plan was to get Veronica the ball on our first three plays of the game. We scripted our first three plays to get Veronica going."