By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
MOUNT PULASKI, Ill.-- Maggie Bowles was Taylor McClintock's shadow.
The Unity girls basketball team's junior defensive wizard relentlessly pursued the Illini Bluffs star all over the floor. Bowles bumped her off screens, stayed in her face when she didn't have the ball and just tried to make her uncomfortable.
At halftime of Monday night's Class 1A Mount Pulaski Sectional semifinal, Unity trailed eighth-ranked Illini Bluffs by just two points in large part because of Bowles. McClintock, who committed to NCAA Division I Mercer University, had just five points.
"I basically couldn't let her go where she wanted to go and was trying to be physical with her," Bowles said. "I was pretty happy. I played the best defense I could, and we all knew she was going to score in double digits no matter what because she's a good player."
In the second half, Bowles picked up two quick fouls in the third quarter, McClintock took advantage and the Lady Mustangs saw their season end. McClintock scored 10 points in the second half, helped force Unity into 11 turnovers and pushed Illini Bluffs to a 48-32 victory that snapped the Lady Mustangs' 13-game winning streak.
"I'm a betting man, but I wouldn't have bet us to win out the year like we did," said Unity coach Brad Begeman, whose team started its run with a victory over Biggsville West Central on Jan. 2 after going 1-3 at the Beardstown Lady Tiger Classic. "I'll give them a lot of credit for all their hard work."
McClintock finished with 15 points on 7-of-19 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists. Illini Bluffs (29-2) took some time to adjust to Unity's triangle-and-two defense because Tigers coach Jim Robertson said teams usually try to use the box-and-one.
"She did a wonderful job of Taylor," Robertson said. "Taylor got a little lazy getting off the screens, but we were prepared for that (Bowles' defense). Taylor left an opening for a fat guy like me to get through, but I have to give that gal credit. She stuck tight on Taylor and made her work for every point she got."
Unity (26-5) kept the game close early by working the ball into the high post and cutting to the basket. The Lady Mustangs scored the first four points of the game and trailed 13-10 after the first quarter.
Two baskets from Breanne Begeman and one from Brooklyn Moore put Unity ahead 16-13 with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left before halftime. McClintock tied the game with a 3-pointer, and Bowles put the Lady Mustangs ahead 18-16 with a layup on a pass from Moore with 4:14 left before halftime.
Moore finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Illini Bluffs took a 22-20 lead into halftime and never trailed again, using a 6-0 run after the break to take control. Unity couldn't cut the lead closer than four for the rest of the game.
Bowles picked up two fouls in first three minutes after halftime, and although she eventually fouled out with less than two minutes remaining in the game, it altered the way the Lady Mustangs played defense.
"It changed a lot," Bowles said. "I had to be more careful and couldn't play as physical. Then she started to score a lot more."
The Lady Mustangs only scored 12 points in the second half and struggled to attack the basket. As a team, Unity only attempted two free throws. Turnovers also halted the Lady Mustangs' attack, as they committed 11 of their 18 turnovers in the second half.
"I think we had some bad luck on some shots and some bounces," Brad Begeman said. "We did some silly things and told them I'm not going to dwell on it because it's the end of the season. We did some silly things, made some errant passes and people didn't come back to the ball, silly stuff like that."
Illini Bluffs only allowed Moore and Breanne Begeman, who finished with 10 points, to attempt eight shots and score six points after halftime. Unity shot 5 of 14 from the field in the second half.
Russell scored 14 points and Sydney McClintock added 10 for the Tigers.
"Defensively, we did a better job of closing down that lane," Robertson said. "I thought we did a better job of denying the interior stuff and making them shoot outside. They didn't shoot a lot from outside."