By Brian Paglia
The critical point in the game for Union Grove -- indeed, what has become the critical point in every game this season -- arrived right on schedule under familiar circumstances. Four minutes remaining. The Wolverines led Ola on its home court by just two points. Mustangs leading scorer Tim Mason out of the game with five fouls.
The game Tuesday teetered for a moment, able to be swayed by any slight force. That force came in Union Grove's sudden employment of a half-court trap defense. It forced five straight turnovers by Ola, which Union Grove converted into fastbreak points for the deciding sway in the Wolverines' 57-43 win.
The complexion of the game was tenuous for the Wolverines (7-3) before Mason fouled out. Ola steadily crept back from an early 18-8 deficit in the first quarter, much in part to the return of senior point guard Troy Swanson, who sat out the entire first quarter.
Brad Blount's backdoor layup cut Union Grove's lead to 37-35 in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines' smallest of the game. But then Mason fouled Union Grove guard Ira Hughley with 4:17 left on the clock.
Without its best scorer on the floor, Ola (5-6) was outscored 19-8 down the stretch and struggled to handle the Wolverines' half-court pressure.
Back-to-back transition dunks by Jordan Nelson (11 points) and Charles Mann (15 points) punctuated Union Grove's momentum.
"I wasn't real pleased with how we played in certain spurts of the game, but that's when you want to be playing the best, at the end of the game. I thought we did that defensively," Union Grove coach Russ Atkins said. "We rebounded well. We hit free throws, which was huge. I'm proud (of my team)."
Mason finished with just 10 points before fouling out. Swanson had eight points in three quarters of play. Blount became the Mustangs' most reliable offensive option, finishing with 15 points.
Zavier Preston scored 13 points for Union Grove. Hughley added eight.
The game's conclusion left both teams headed in markedly different directions as the second half of the season begins. After a school-best 4-0 starter, Ola has lost six of its last seven games.
Tuesday's win gave Union Grove its fifth win in its past six games and in a stronger position than last season headed into the crux of region play.
"For the most part, I think we're right where we want to be," Atkins said. "Obviously, we've still got strides we've got to make before it gets to February. We want to be playing our best in February, but right now ... I'm happy with where we are."
Union Grove girls 45, Ola 38
The Lady Wolverines survived a scare by the Lady Mustangs, hitting enough free throws and holding up defensively in the final five minutes to escape with the win Tuesday night.
Corrine White led Union Grove (7-4) with 14 points and eight rebounds and was 6-of-7 from the free throw line. Tierra Newell added 11 points and three blocks. Dafina Chisolm contributed six points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
Amanda Winters led Ola's upset bid with a game-high 16 points and grabbed six rebounds. Taylor Anderson added 10 points for the Lady Mustangs (0-12).