When Shots Don't Fall, Arbor Prep Turns to Defense to Lock Up Latest Title

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

March 23, 2024

EAST LANSING – Ypsilanti Arbor Prep experienced one of its worst shooting performances of the season in Saturday’s Division 3 Final.

But instead of dwelling on missed opportunities, they relied on the one thing they know they do well – play defense.

Arbor Prep held Niles Brandywine to its lowest scoring output of the season in earning a gritty 33-30 win at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

“We have very good athletes and every single one of these girls is tough,” Gators coach Scott Stine said. “And they are committed to playing defense. They are committed to doing what we do as a system, and we don't win this game without defense.

“These kids are special, and even on our worst offensive day, they stuck to the Arbor Prep way. They played defense and rebounded the ball, and they are state champions.”

Arbor Prep (25-4) won its second Division 3 Final in the last three seasons despite shooting a dismal 25 percent (12-48) from the field, including 11 percent (2 of 19) from 3-point range.

Senior Taylor Wallace struggled to find her shooting touch, but had four steals to go with eight points.

Stacy Utomi (24) tries to get up a shot over the Bobcats’ Adeline Gill. “I had good looks and they just didn't go in, so I knew I had to find other ways to help people out,” Wallace said. “I started anticipating and got some pretty good steals on defense. People say defense wins championships, and as you can see defense won us a championship.” 

The Utomi twins, seniors Stephanie and Stacy, combined for 16 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Gators. Stephanie Utomi had nine points, five rebounds and a game-high six steals, while her sister grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and chipped in seven points.

“We knew this was our last game in our high school career, and the whole message from Coach was ‘be tired tomorrow,’” Stacy Utomi said. “Be tired later, because this is it. I just wanted to make sure I gave my team extra possessions.”

Added Stephanie Utomi: “We took a deep breath before the second half and just took what was there. It was about trusting our teammates, and we had a few key plays here and there. It took all of us to win.”

Stine was pleased with this team’s ability to value each possession. The Gators registered only seven turnovers.

“They took care of it against a very good defensive team, and if we don’t do that then we don’t win the game,” Stine said. “We forced 18 (turnovers), and that’s the stat I was looking at. We won that battle.”

Arbor Prep’s shooting woes had a lot to do with Brandywine, according to Stine.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well, but I’m going to give them credit for that,” he said. “They have good athletes, and they play sound man-to-man defense. I truly believe it was the two best teams in Division 3 that got to play today.”

Brandywine held a slim 7-6 lead after the first quarter despite four turnovers and giving up five offensive rebounds.

Gators coach Scott Stine presents the championship trophy to his team.Back-to-back steals and ensuing layups by Wallace gave the Gators a 10-7 advantage early in the second quarter.

Wallace  knocked down a corner 3 during the final seconds of the first half to help Arbor Prep to a 15-9 edge at the break. It was the Gators’ first 3-pointer of the half after 12 straight misses.

Arbor Prep extended its lead to 18-9 early in the third quarter, but Brandywine closed the gap to 21-19 later in the quarter after five straight points from junior Adeline Gill.

The Bobcats wouldn’t get any closer, though, and a 9-1 run by Arbor Prep and stout defense during the final quarter gave them a cushion late.

The Gators led 31-21 with 58 seconds left before Brandywine made three consecutive 3-pointers over the final 32 seconds.

Poor free throw shooting (2-10) and turnovers led to the Bobcats’ demise. They also allowed 13 offensive rebounds.

Their previous low for points was 38 against Vicksburg in their only other loss of the season.

“It was a defensive slugfest,” Brandywine coach Josh Hood said. “We had our opportunities, and you got to be able to make free throws, and I have to do a better job of putting our players in situations to be able to score.

“I’m really proud of our girls and their effort against a really good Arbor Prep team that has been here five times since their coach arrived there.”  

Junior Adelyn Drotoz knocked down three 3-pointers for Brandywine and finished with nine points, while senior Kadence Brumitt added seven points and nine rebounds.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Arbor Prep’s Taylor Wallace (5) brings the ball upcourt Saturday with Brandywine’s Ellie Knapp (1) applying pressure. (Middle) Gators coach Scott Stine presents the championship trophy to his team. (Below) Stacy Utomi (24) tries to get up a shot over the Bobcats’ Adeline Gill. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)