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Oneonta sophomore Mariah Ruff Oneonta sophomore Mariah Ruff

If you hear Oneonta High girls basketball coach Matt Miller yelling, "Get back!" or "Shooter!" a lot Saturday, there's a good reason.

The Yellowjackets' opponent for a Class B state quarterfinal, Section Three champion South Jefferson, loves to run and it loves to shoot.

That means if Oneonta (17-4) wants to make it three trips to the state semifinals in four years, it will have to limit the Spartans' fastbreak points and get out to their three-point shooters.

The teams will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at Binghamton High, with the winner earning a berth in the state semifinals at Hudson Valley Community College the following weekend. Section Six's Southwestern or Section Five's Aquinas will play Saturday's winner at 10 a.m. March 16. The state final is set for 4 p.m. March 17, also at HVCC.

"They're a unique team," said Miller, in his second year as Oneonta's head coach. "They essentially play five guards. They spread you out big time. They have five guards around the perimeter and they look to dribble-drive and kick."

The Spartans (22-0) secured their ninth sectional title in the last 11 seasons with a 63-56 victory over Hannibal on March 2 at the Carrier Dome. They've made an eye-popping 183 three-pointers this season _ 101 more than the Yellowjackets.

"Limiting their three-point shots will certainly be a challenge," said Miller, whose team has yet to lose to a Class B program this season. "We want to make them beat us by going to the basket. Making them go to the basket would serve us well. They don't have a ton of size; their tallest starter is 5-foot-9.

"But they can all shoot and they can all handle," he continued. "They like to push even on makes. They transition off made baskets, so we'll have to get back (on defense)."

The teams met two seasons back in a state quarterfinal at a packed Hartwick College gymnasium, with OHS winning a defensive struggle, 41-33.

South Jefferson has two players back from that squad _ senior point guard Amanda Roberts and junior guard Brooke VanCoughnett.

Back then, the Spartans also had 6-foot center Maddy Wetterhan, who scored a team-high 10 points. They don't possess a low-post threat this time, just a well-rounded perimeter game.

"We've changed the way we play," South Jefferson coach Pat Bassett said. "We spread the floor."

Freshman Clarissa Perry and senior Arin Crowell each have hit in the neighborhood of 60 threes this season. Bassett said the other starters _ Roberts, VanCoughnett and sophomore Austin Stevens _ have more than 20 threes apiece to their credit.

Roberts leads the team in scoring at 13.0 points per game. Stevens averages 12.0 and Perry is at 10.3. Crowell contributes 9.6 and VanCoughnett is at 8.2.

VanCoughnett, though just 5-4, is also the team's top rebounder. She grabbed 21 in the win over Hannibal and had 17 in a semifinal victory over Utica Notre Dame.

"I attribute that to the fact that she's just relentless," Miller said of VanCoughnett. "Pat Bassett, South Jefferson's coach, said she's the hardest worker he's ever coached. If there's a loose ball, she's on it. She gets a lot of long rebounds by just outhustling people."

Miller said he's been experimenting with a couple of zone looks this week that he said he hopes will allow OHS defenders to get out to South Jefferson's shooters.

"Traditionally this year, our primary defense has been a 2-3 zone," he said. "I'm reserved in my thoughts how effective that can be. We may try to match up more. More of a matchup look or a man-to-man, which we've played throughout the year. My big fear is my girls are not disciplined in man-to-man and we get in foul trouble. Contesting their shooters will certainly be a challenge."

Defensively, the Spartans play a man-to-man defense. But Bassett said the four defenders not guarding OHS standout Mariah Ruff will be ready to help.

"She's pretty impressive," Bassett said of Ruff, the OHS point guard who averages a team-best 16.1 points. "Man, she's good. She's complete. She can catch and shoot and she even has the ability to rise up and shoot over you. She can also put it on the floor and go both ways and she can spin back both ways. She's not a kid you can guard with one person."

Bassett said VanCoughnett and Roberts likely will take turns guarding Ruff.

"As far as I'm concerned, with Mariah's ability to score, I don't care who they put on her," said Miller, whose team beat Norwich, 41-36, on March 2 to win its fifth straight sectional title. "The other thing is, with their man-to-man defense, that could allow some of our post players to get position. Kelsey Baker has been doing work all year against kids much taller than South Jefferson has."

The 5-10 Baker averages 8.3 points, which ranks second on the team.

Because of Natalie Vanderlaan-Meyering's season-ending suspension for violating team rules, 5-9 Sierra Sangetti-Daniels and 6-foot Brittney Herrick also should have some opportunities in the paint for the Yellowjackets.

"That's unfortunate for them," Bassett said of Vanderlaan-Meyering's suspension. "I think the Daniels kid has stepped in and done a good job. They're not a whole lot weaker with her in there. Daniels and Baker in the post will pose some problems for us."

When the teams played two years ago, OHS junior guard Dani Nicosia came off the bench to score five points. She's the only current OHS player who scored in that game.

"It'll come down who imposes their will on the other team," Bassett said. "They like to walk it up and we're better in the open floor."

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.

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