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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

OPEN COURT: Stuart Country Day junior star Kathryn Kitts heads into open space on her way to scoring 19 points in Stuart's 44-21 win over Gill-St. Bernard's last Wednesday. Stuart, now 8-10, hosts Lakewood Prep on February 3 in one of its final tune-ups before starting Prep state tournament play. end of caption

Stuart Hoops Growing Together As It Heads Into Stretch Drive

By Bill Alden

Things looked promising for the Stuart Country Day School basketball team as it got off to a 6-4 start this winter.

Hitting a lull, however, the Tartans lacked their characteristic scrappiness as they proceeded to drop their next five contests.

Stuart hit rock bottom on January 21 when it trailed Hill by 36-12 at the half. Seemingly regaining their intensity, the Tartans battled Hill to a 23-23 standoff in the second half when it could have easily folded.

In head coach Tony Bowman's view, the miserable first half against Hill was the wake-up call his struggling team needed. "In the second half against Hill, things started to turnaround," recalled Bowman. "We juggled the line-up a little bit to light a fire."

Building on that effort, Stuart topped Princeton Day School 48-36 on January 25 and then routed Gill-St. Bernard's 44-21 a day later.

Bowman was heartened by his club's fire on defense in the victory over Gill. "The first two quarters we played very well defensively," said Bowman, whose club built a 28-11 halftime cushion in the triumph.

"We were rotating and helping much better. We're playing together and talking more on the court. That's important when you're playing a zone defense."

Stuart also got an early jolt on offense from Caitlin Spratt. "She scored eight points in the first quarter," said Bowman of his sophomore guard who ended up with 12 points in the game. "She hit two three-pointers and had a lay-up. We need her to be an outside presence."

Junior star Kathryn Kitts has been a constant offensive presence for the Tartans. "Having her in the lineup makes my life easy," said Bowman of Kitts, who is averaging 16.9 points per game and had a game-high 19 in the win over Gill.

"She always hustles. She doesn't play any differently whether we are up by 20 or down by 20. She will yell for the ball when we are struggling. We need more players to be like that."

With the state Prep B playoffs on the horizon, Bowman recognizes that his team needs to do some fine-tuning, both defensively and offensively.

"We need our full court press to be tougher, we can score easy baskets off of that," said Bowman, whose club lost 39-31 to George School last Saturday to fall to 8-10 on the season.

"We want to hold teams under double figures in each quarter. On offense, I'm looking for 18-20 points from Kitts, 15-18 from Kelly Bruvik and 10-12 from Spratt. We need to have those three in double figures."

Bowman believes he and his players are getting on the same page as they head into the season's stretch drive. "I'm looking forward to it," asserted Bowman, whose club hosts Lakewood Prep on February 3 in one of its final tune-ups before state tournament play.

"We have a young team and it's just my second year with the program. I'm ready to grow and I think they are ready to grow. The kids have been doing more listening and less talking. I think they are learning."

If the Tartans can prove to be quick learners, they could grow into a force in the state Prep tourney.

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