ROSELLE, NJ — When you go up against a superior unit, sometimes you have the best view of seeing exactly what, as a team, you are trying to accomplish.
Your opponent is right there, in front of you, executing the way you hope to someday.
You could say that was the case in the first quarter of the Union County Conference–Watchung Division girls basketball clash between defending champion New Providence High School and host Roselle Catholic High School on Saturday, Jan. 28.
Running the offense, passing the ball and finding the open man was how a seasoned New Providence squad jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead and never looked back. The Pioneers would go on to outscore the Lions 27-12 in the first eight minutes, also sparked by an at-times suffocating full-court press that led to taking the ball away en route to an uncontested layup.
Junior guard Grace Kinum scored all 16 of her team-leading points in the first half and missed just three shots for a New Providence squad that improved to 14-3 overall and 10-1 in the division.
“We wanted to control play and control the energy,” New Providence head coach Cap Pazdera said. “We were aware that Roselle Catholic defeated Westfield. RC had a junk defense, so we wanted to get as many girls involved as possible to have a chance to score.”
When New Providence wanted to speed up the tempo, the Pioneers sent the ball quickly from one end of the court to the other, lighting up the scoreboard once again.
“We knew RC was a tough team,” Kinum said. “We wanted to start strong and keep our energy going. They had this triangle-and-2, and so we were looking for all of our teammates to step up.”
That’s where a young Roselle Catholic squad wants to be.
There were signs of Roselle Catholic breaking through offensively and holding New Providence, to a degree, below its standards in the final three quarters.
Freshman guard Sidney Smith, who hails from Roselle Park, paced Roselle Catholic with a 16-point performance, 11 coming in the first half. Sophomore Jasmin McKay, from North Plainfield, netted 14 points, while also grabbing two rebounds and coming up with two steals.
Roselle Catholic ultimately fell to New Providence 68-39 in the Lions’ den, with the Lions beginning the week with an overall record of 7-10 and 6-5 in the Watchung Division. Roselle Catholic was scheduled to play at New Providence on Wednesday, Feb. 1, after press time, which was its final division contest of the year.
The Union County Tournament was to be seeded Tuesday morning, Jan. 31, also after pres time, with Roselle Catholic expected to get a decent seed, despite starting the week three games below .500.
The UCT should get started with preliminary and first-round games later this week and this weekend. The tournament will conclude the third weekend in February. New Providence won last year for only the second time and for the first time since 1990. Westfield High School captured the crown in 2020. There was no UCT in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roselle Catholic won the UCT for the sixth time in 2018.
Perhaps Roselle Catholic’s best win this season is its 52-42 triumph at Westfield on Tuesday, Dec. 20. In that game, Roselle Catholic fell behind 16-12 after the first quarter but then won the next three quarters 11-6, 16-11 and 13-9.
Westfield, for the first time the defending overall Group 4 state champion, began the week in second place in the Watchung Division standings.
In that triumph against Westfield, Smith and McKay scored 20 points each, sophomore Gabby Brown had 8 points and freshman Zahniya Castillo 4 and a team-leading 10 rebounds.
As of Monday, McKay led the Lions in scoring with 289 points and 62 steals. Castillo was first in rebounds with 123.
Notes: New Providence was expected to earn the UCT’s top seed for the second straight season. If the Pioneers won at home against RC on Wednesday, Feb. 1, then they also repeated as outright Watchung Division champions.
Westfield was expected to get the UCT’s second seed for the second year in a row. After that, the top teams that were to be seeded included, records as of Monday, Jan. 30, Mountain Division outright champion Elizabeth High School (19-0), Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School (12-6), Cranford High School (9-9) and Roselle Catholic High School (7-10).
Scotch Plains, Cranford and Roselle Catholic all reside in the Watchung Division.
What did it take for New Providence to finally hoist the UCT trophy during Pazdera’s leadership a year ago? “When I say it was a team effort, I mean that other players stepped up,” Pazdera said. “It took everyone for us to come out on top.”
Elizabeth was the only Union County team to have no in-county losses as of the seeding meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 31, while New Providence had one, to Westfield, and Westfield had two, to New Providence and Roselle Catholic.
The Lions, who were the seventh seed, defeated Union Catholic at home and then lost at Westfield in last year’s UCT play.
Roselle Catholic began the week sixth in power points with 248 in the section it competes in for the states: North Jersey, Non-Public B.
The states commence around New Jersey a week earlier than in previous years, this season on Monday, Feb. 20, Presidents Day. Roselle Catholic lost at Immaculate Conception High School 87-35 in last year’s North Jersey, Non-Public B first-round action.
Photos Courtesy of Joe Skrec