Kaiser leads Upper Dublin over Cheltenham
Scores 19 points in pacing Cardinals to American win
FORT WASHINGTON >> All season, Upper Dublin has banked on Nicole Kaiser getting the job done.
When she’s delivered, the Cardinals have usually gotten a positive result out of it. Opposing teams are planning for the junior forward, committing their best defenders to trying to stop her. Kaiser has arguably been the Cardinals’ most important player this season.
Not too bad for a kid who was coming off the bench this time last season.
Friday night, Kaiser delivered again for her team, scoring 19 points to go with seven
rebounds and two steals as UD defeated visiting Cheltenham 48-30.
“The girls did a great job of finding (Kaiser), whether it was in transition or our halfcourt sets,” Upper Dublin coach Morgan Funsten said. “She’s really good at finishing and dropping 19, that’s kind of what she’s become for us. She’s become our go-to scorer.”
The Cardinals didn’t shoot great on Friday, going 21-of-60 from the floor, but they did all the other things well. UD collected 19 of its 31 rebounds on the offensive glass, turned the ball over just four times and played tough defense, forcing the Panthers into 16 turnovers.
Senior guard Josie Barrett was the catalyst to Upper Dublin’s (8-4, 5-1 SOL American) hot start, taking the opening tip and zooming down the floor for a layup. Barrett, a dead-eye shooter from outside, scored 10 of her 13 points in the first quarter then spent the rest of the game filling the other areas of the boxscore.
“Josie did a great job setting the tone in the first half,” Funsten said. “She made some early shots and really, she had a complete game with four assists, four rebounds and four steals. That’s a very well-balanced game and she disrupted things for them defensively and made some really nice decisions offensively.”
Barrett and Kaiser are two players who benefit from each other. When Barrett starts hot like she did Friday, Kaiser has more room to either drive or post up. Conversely, when Kaiser is scoring and attacking, it tends to pull defenders in, and Barrett doesn’t need much time or space to get a shot off.
Upper Dublin scored the first nine points of the game and led 17-6 before Cheltenham (7-7, 4-3 SOL American) senior Mia Leonard slowed the game down by getting to the line. The forward, who finished with a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds, drew foul after foul and got the Panthers into the bonus not even a minute into the second quarter.
“We were trying to push the pace of the game early and we had six team fouls five minutes into the game, which is not typical of us,” Funsten said. “We thought we could take advantage of some things by pushing the pace early and they did a great job of getting the ball to Leonard and slowing the game back down to where they wanted to play.”
Much like Kaiser is the key to her team, Leonard has been a huge piece for Cheltenham this season, making vast improvements in her game the past few seasons. She had monster showings in the Panthers’ two prior games this week, both wins, and kept battling all night against Upper Dublin.
“They’re big and they’re a very good rebounding team, especially with Leonard,” Funsten said. “She played phenomenal and it’s really impressive how much she’s improved over the last couple years. She is a force down there and she really gave us trouble.”
UD led 28-14 at the half, but started the third a little lethargic. A timeout by Funsten got the team righted and Kaiser came back out and took over. After the stop with 4:23 left in the frame, the junior five points in the next two minutes and added another basket with 17 seconds left in the quarter.
Where much of her offense last year came by cleaning up misses or being set up around the rim, Kaiser has brought a much more diverse game to the court this year. She didn’t make a 3-pointer on Friday, but can shoot them and inside the arc, she just finds ways to put the ball through the rim.
“She works on her game tirelessly, she’s had the ability since last year to finish around the basket,” Funsten said. “She works on her post moves, she worked on her guard skills, she worked on her outside shooting and she also worked on her defense. Nicole is the type of player who when other people talk to me about our team, it’s usually about her and how much she’s improved.”
The junior put an emphasis on it to start the fourth quarter. She stole the ball just over midcourt and took it all the way for a layup 44 seconds in, then scored again 17 seconds later after Barrett stole it and set up Kaiser during a 3-on-1 break.
“I’m very proud of her. Sometimes you get a kid who works hard and it doesn’t pay off, but she seems to be the type where it’s all paying off,” Funsten said. “It’s not her just showing up in November and she’s suddenly a better player, she is working at it tirelessly.”
Upper Dublin has a stiff test on Sunday in Archbishop Ryan. The Ragdolls entered their Friday game with Hallahan unbeaten at 130. The teams will clash at 8:30 pm in the final game of the Maggie Lucas Play-By-Play Classic at Philly U.
“You want to be challenged,” Funsten said. “Cheltenham came ready tonight and we get a great challenge in Archbishop Ryan and we’re really excited for the opportunity to play them.” Upper Dublin 48, Cheltenham 30