NASHVILLE — The names change, and every once in a while, the coaches do too.
However, the way Nashville’s girls basketball team wins hasn’t changed for the better part of 20 years.
It was on display again Monday night in Assembly Hall, where the Hornettes locked down Anna-Jonesboro in a SIRR Mississippi showdown. Limiting the Wildcats to 25.6 percent shooting from the field, including 4-of-23 from the 3-point line while dominating the glass, Nashville bagged a 41-32 victory to break a three-way tie for first place in the conference.
In avenging a 34-31 loss to A-J in late November, the Hornettes (13-6, 5-1) outscored the Wildcats 19-6 at the foul line while earning a 38-20 advantage on the glass.
“It’s always a big difference,” Nashville coach Doug Althoff said. “It’s just those extra possessions you get, especially if they’re offensive. Our theory here is you give them one shot, and hopefully you get the rebound.”
Emily Stern was particularly stout underneath for the Hornettes. Although she scored only six points, she might have been their best player of the evening. Stern hauled in 11 rebounds and rejected three shots, essentially closing off the lane for A-J.
Stern came up with a big play to close the first half. After Libby Ahlers made her first free throw with 2.1 seconds left, she missed the second. But the 5-9 Stern contorted her body to pluck a rebound over a Wildcat without fouling, then stuck back the miss for a 17-11 halftime lead.
“Thirty-eight to 20 says a lot,” A-J coach Matt Denny said of the rebounding. “That’s something we have to fix.”
Nevertheless, the Wildcats have been a good story this season. Expected to finish in the conference’s middle, they have become contenders behind solid 3-point shooting and good defense.
They did a couple of things in this one that would have suggested they would win. Their man-to-man defense, mixed in with occasional 2-3 zone, held Nashville to 32.1 percent shooting. A-J (15-5, 4-2) committed just three turnovers while forcing 12, getting some late-game mileage from full-court pressure.
But all the defense and ball security in the world won’t help you win basketball games if you can’t make a round ball fit through an iron hoop. Try as they might, the Wildcats simply couldn’t make enough shots to pull off a big road win.
“We did a lot of things well,” Denny said. “We gave a good effort on defense in the second half. We’ve shot the three well all year. I think we’re around 34 or 35 percent for the year. If a couple of more fall during the game … it’s something we can fix.”
Nashville maintained a steady 6-to-11 point lead for most of the second half, calmly putting A-J away at the foul line. Ahlers and Sabrina Kollbaum combined to hit 11 of 13 foul shots over the last 2:52. Kollbaum led all scorers with 13 points and Ahlers contributed 12.
No player reached double digits for A-J, although sophomore guard Jaley Watkins scored nine points and made five steals. Senior guard Angel Helm, who went over the 1,000-point mark for her career in a Saturday win over Murphysboro, managed just two points — both at the foul line — as the Hornettes limited her to six shot attempts.
Althoff, an assistant to Wayne Harre before taking the program over prior to the 2015-16 season, has kept Harre’s defense-first template in place and averaged more than 20 wins in his first three years.
“It’s hard to keep a team from taking a shot, but you can always check and rebound,” Althoff said. “That’s our key — check them out and get the rebound.”
In the end, no matter who plays or who coaches, they win.