WILTON — If you go by rational perspective, Wilton my have the early intangible advantage for the FCIAC girls basketball title.
And if the Warriors can come close to replicating their execution tonight, they may hold a tangible edge as well.
In a battle of preseason favorites carrying undefeated records, Wilton used a spurt to take a 12-point halftime lead and doubled it in just under 3 1/2 minutes at the start of the third quarter. The result was a resounding 74-56 win over Stamford that, the Warrior players agreed, may have helped more with their psyches than in the standings.
“Everyone knows Stamford is a great team,” said Claire Gulbin, who put on a second-half show, when she scored 17 of her game-high 24 points. “There’s a lot of talk about us. We always say we are going to be up there, we are going to be one of the top teams. It’s always talk and we never actually do it. So this game was really important to us. We wanted to prove to ourselves and other people that we can actually play with the top teams in the league. It was definitely a test for us.”
Stamford (4-1), which lost in the FCIAC final a year ago after winning league and state titles the previous season, became an early-season measuring stick for the Warriors (4-0).
Wilton, which never trailed in the game, slowly built its lead late in the second quarter and went ahead, 31-19, when Alexa Hirn hit a long 3-point shot from the corner at the buzzer.
The Warriors then pulled away with a dazzling shooting display. Caroline Sweeny, transformed into a human jumping jack after each of her four 3-point shots, was bouncing on the floor of the Zeoli Fieldhouse after connecting on a long jumper off a pass from Gulbin on the first possession of the half.
After Stamford’s Andrea O’Connor answered with a basket, the Warriors scored 11 straight points in 79 seconds. Gulbin made one of her four 3-point shots and three free throws after being fouled on a shot behind the stripe. Lauren Robertson finished off a pass from Gulbin and then Sweeny ended the spurt with a 3-point shot for a 45-21 lead.
“They had not quit in them tonight at all,” Wilton coach Rob Coloney said. “We put girls in off the bench and the lights were on them and they didn’t shy away. For me that’s a really good position to be in when your kids respond that way.”
Liz Breslin added 8 points for Wilton, which got points from nine different players.
“It’s always easier to play with a lead,” Gulbin said. “Well, it’s never easy against a team like Stamford. They went on a big run and in the past we got freaked out about it and weren’t able to close.”
The Black Knights ended the third quarter with 10 straight points and then Megan Landsiedel’s 3-point shot to open the final period brought them within 48-35. But they would get no closer, with Gulbin scoring eight of Wilton’s next 11 points.
“They went on a bit of a run so I wanted to get a bucket or two to ease everyone down but I also wanted to keep the control in our hands,” Gulbin said.
Brooke Kelly scored 17 points to lead Stamford. Alexa Kellner, defended well, finished with 12, while O’Connor added 10.
Stamford coach Diane Burns said the outcome had nothing to do with her team playing the second of three games in three days.
“Wilton shot the heck out of the ball,” Burns said. “They came in wanting it more than we did. They came in ready to go and played start to finish really hard and we didn’t decide to try and match it until it was too late. You have to credit them for their work ethic, their shot selection, knocking down big shots, pushing the ball, being physical. They played well tonight. They were the better team.”
Wilton is a team that is trying to sprint toward the future by escaping its past. Coloney said the team’s last big win was in the 2015 state final, when he was an assistant. The Warriors have not won a league title since 1989.
“We have to earn any kind of press that we get,” Coloney said. “People see eight (seniors) and they assume you’re going to be good and the reality is this team has never won a meaningful game in their whole careers. They were on the bench for the state championship, took Trumbull to overtime last year but is their epitaph going to be that we’re going to look at memorable losses, memorable almosts? I think that there’s a different energy around this group tonight and in general that buoyed them over that hump.”
Gulbin was equally candid in her assessment.
“Last year everyone thought we were going to be nothing and we said we were going to be all this, and we were flat out mediocre the whole season,” Gulbin said. “We wanted to prove to ourselves, not even other people, that we could play with the top teams.”
Burns and Stamford have rebounded from early losses each of the last two seasons.
“That’s what you have to love about December,” Burns said. “You have a checklist a mile long of things you can improve on and it grew by double tonight.”