One of 10: Kokomo point guard Kayla Drake dribbles away with one of her 10 steals in the Kats’ 54-42 North Central Conference win over Logansport Saturday afternoon at Memorial Gym. Drake also had a game-high 15 points.

Over the past nine seasons, Kokomo girls basketball teams have generally turned North Central Conference games into events that were about as one-sided as a hanging.

Count ’em. The Kats captured eight NCC titles during that stretch — amassing the kind of dominance (59-3) the NCC will likely never see again.

Saturday afternoon at Memorial Gymnasium, the Wildkats opened a new season of NCC play and while the outcome was pleasantly familiar to fans, the route to victory looked anything but familiar.

Smooth, it wasn’t, but rather spit and grit and loads of ball-hawking defense, spearheaded by point guard Kayla Drake, carried the Kats to a 54-42 victory over Logansport.

Kokomo led just 40-35 heading into the fourth quarter, before keeping the Berries without a field goal until just 1:51 remained. By then, the Kats had opened a comfortable 51-36 lead.

Clearly it was Kokomo’s defense that made the difference in that fourth quarter — and throughout for that matter. Logansport was forced into seven turnovers on their first eight possessions of the final quarter. The smallest of the Kats — Drake — inflicted the major damage, at one point making three steals in less than 30 seconds.

Generously listed at 5-foot-5 on the Wildkat program, the junior point guard was officially credited with 10 steals but in all reality played an even larger role in totally disrupting a Logansport offense that finished with 21 turnovers and just 12 field goals.

“A lot of point guards can control the tempo of an offense, but Kayla can do that defensively as well,” said Wildkat coach Jason Snyder. “She’s a player who takes a scouting report and really studies it. She knows what plays to expect and she does a good job of talking her team through them.”

Drake was more than just a thief. She added five rebounds, four assists and led all scorers with 15 points. While she didn’t shoot particularly well (3 of 15), she got to the free throw line often enough to hit 6 of 7 shots.

While defense was the key, Kokomo (4-1) used its rebounding and depth to great advantage. The Kats won the boards 37-27 and their 18 offensive rebounds played a huge part in getting off 14 more shots than the visitors. Snyder noted that Kokomo’s depth was instrumental in outscoring Logansport 17-7 and 14-7 in the second and fourth quarters.

“We did a good job of attacking the boards,” Snyder said, noting that 11 of his 12 players had at least one rebound. “Courtney [Smith-Powell] had nine rebounds in just over 11 minutes — that’s pretty good work.”

The fact that Smith-Powell played just 11 minutes was a problem shared by others. The Kats were in foul trouble the entire first half, picking up nine personals the first quarter. At halftime, the Berries had 19 points — 13 coming from the line.

“Some of that may have been the 10-day layoff,” Snyder said. “It was almost like playing our season opener again. But we were closing out too close, grabbing and not rotating to take charges. We made some adjustments at halftime and did better in the second half.”

Kokomo missed by one attempt of tying the school record for 3-point shot attempts. Against a packed in Logansport zone, the Kats hit on 8 of 31 tries with five players contributing treys.

Snyder was particularly pleased to see Shakeeta Cotton hit a pair from long range. She finished with 13 points, four boards and three assists.

“She had a nice game overall, but hopefully [making the 3s] will help her confidence. She’s a good shooter in practice.”

One other battle Kokomo didn’t lose was defending the Berries’ outstanding 6-foot-1 freshman Jasmine Penny, who lived in Kokomo until moving to Logansport last summer. Already the No. 3 rebounder and No. 6 scorer in the NCC, she was kept under wraps with 14 points and 8 rebounds.

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