SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Key adjustments, increased tenacity, and great ball movement sparked the Union Catholic girls basketball team to a huge second half as the Vikings wore down Summit on the way to a 45-33 victory on Thursday.
It was the fifth straight victory for Union Catholic, which raised its record to 12-2.
The Vikings trailed Summit, 22-19 at halftime as the Hilltoppers took advantage of its big size advantage by scoring most of its points inside. Madison Johnson was on fire for UC in the first half, scoring the first 13 points for the Vikings.
In the second half, UC cranked up the defensive intensity and came out pressing and crashed the boards, which led a to a 9-0 run to open the third quarter as the Vikings took a 28-22 lead. Abbey Ortiz ignited the surge for UC with a layup and three-pointer to start the run. Johnson added a free throw and Sabrina Araujo buried a three to cap the spurt.
UC double teamed the high post and got into the passing lanes to cause several Summit turnovers that led to transition points as the Vikings outscored Summit 26-11 in the second half.
With UC leading 34-28 at the end of three quarters, Johnson, who finished with a game-high 23 points and grabbed six rebounds, opened the fourth quarter with an electrifying reverse layup as she drove baseline after a great ball fake to make it 36-28. After Summit cut the deficit to 36-31, Johnson converted a layup in transition after Ortiz came up with a steal and feed Johnson, and on Summit's next possession, Johnson returned the favor when she intercepted a pass and sent a great pass to Ortiz, who converted a layup to give UC a 40-31 lead with 3:32 left in the game.
Summit tried to cut into the deficit with three-point attempts, but UC's stifling defense didn't give Summit shooters any space to get off clean looks.
In the final couple minutes, UC was able to run the clock with great ball handling and movement, forcing Summit to start fouling. Johnson hit three free throws and Ortiz two down the stretch to secure the victory.
Several players contributed to the victory for UC. Johnson was her usual splendid self, adding six steals and three assists to her 23 points and six boards. Ortiz scored all 11 of her points in the second half, had five rebounds and five steals. Gianna Peralta, who played a very gritty game, made a huge impact on the glass by hauling down seven rebounds. Araujo finished with eight points, and Olivia Magliacano made her presence felt for UC with six rebounds and very strong, physical defense.
The Vikings will be back in action on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at home vs. Westfield.