The body language of the host Roncalli girls basketball players midway through the second quarter of Tuesday night's game against Lawrence North told the story.
The Rebels looked worn out in the battle of top-10 teams.
The high-octane Wildcats dictated the tempo throughout much of the contest on their way to a 55-51 victory, in a rematch of the Dec. 8 Marion County championship game the Wildcats also won by four points. The teams -- who could meet again in the sectional -- are tied at No. 7 in the Class 4A rankings.
"They just really brought a focus and energy defensively," Lawrence North first-year coach Chris Giffin said of his team. "We felt like defensively was where we had some potential advantage to create some tempo and a pace to play."
Roncalli (9-2) dictated the tempo early. The Rebels looked poised to do whatever they wanted in the first quarter, forcing Lawrence North (9-2) into five turnovers on its first six possessions to take a 6-0 lead.
The Wildcats settled down, closing to within 13-11 heading into the second quarter. Sophomore Amani Ferguson caught fire for Lawrence North, scoring all 12 of her points in the first half on four 3-pointers, including a 35-footer just before the buzzer to send the Wildcats into the break with a 29-23 lead.
The Lawrence North defense was lethal in the third quarter, forcing nine turnovers while opening a 39-28 lead late in the quarter. "We want to get up (on them) right at the start and get them to cough up the ball," said guard Ana Owens, who had nine steals. "(Offensively) we just want to push it as fast as we can when it's (fast break) there."
Push it, the Wildcats did. Roncalli's Kellie Kirkhoff drained a 3 with 5:40 left in the game to cut Lawrence North's lead to 41-38, but Wildcats senior forward Mikale Rogers silenced the pro-Roncalli crowd moments later with a layup, while also being fouled on the play.
Rogers finished with a game-high 20 points for Lawrence North. Freshman guard Lindsey Corsaro led the Rebels with 17 points. Roncalli had 17 turnovers in the second and third quarters combined.
"Their pressure bothered us a little bit," said Roncalli coach April Schilling. "They pushed it (offensively in the second quarter) and the tempo of the game went in their direction after that."