Perhaps the toughest challenge the Upper Arlington High School girls basketball team faces when it visits Central Crossing on Friday, Feb. 3, is trying to duplicate its defensive performance from the teams' previous meeting.

Perhaps the toughest challenge the Upper Arlington High School girls basketball team faces when it visits Central Crossing on Friday, Feb. 3, is trying to duplicate its defensive performance from the teams' previous meeting.

Central Crossing was averaging 47.3 points before playing Groveport on Jan. 31, but the Comets were held 17 points beneath their average in a 55-30 loss to the Golden Bears on Dec. 20.

Coach Chris Savage said defense is the Bears' biggest strength.

"Defensively, we're really solid," he said. "Not too many teams have put up more than 50 points on us. I am happy with where we are at."

UA was allowing an average of 39.7 points through 16 games. The only four games in which the Bears allowed more than 41 points were a 59-49 loss to Pickerington North on Nov. 26, a 53-40 loss to Watterson on Dec. 29, a 54-43 loss to Dublin Coffman on Jan. 13 and a 51-38 loss to Newark on Jan. 28.

North was ranked third in the Division I state poll last week behind Reynoldsburg and Uniontown Lake.

"We want the opponents to work hard for every single basket," senior point guard Michela Paradiso said. "We don't want to give them anything easy."

In OCC-Central Division play, UA has allowed 36.2 points per game, the lowest average in the league. Central Crossing is next at 39.3, followed by Coffman (42.4), Hilliard Davidson (45.0), Hilliard Darby (46.4), Thomas Worthington (47.6), Worthington Kilbourne (49.1) and Westland (50.3).

UA, which is seeking its third consecutive OCC-Central title, is tied with Central Crossing for second in the league at 9-2, behind Coffman (10-1) and ahead of Davidson (6-5), Thomas (4-7), Darby (3-8), Westland (2-9) and Kilbourne (1-10).

According to Savage, Paradiso and her sister, Chiara, a sophomore guard who moved into a starting role at midseason, are the Bears' top defensive players.

"We put them on the opponents' best players for a reason," Savage said. "I can't imagine what it's like being guarded by them. Those two do a good job of disrupting a team's whole offense. They don't just apply pressure on the wings but everywhere."

Through 14 games, Michela had a team-high 42 steals and was averaging 10.5 points, and Chiara had 19 steals and was averaging 5.3 points.

The Paradisos don't just display that defensive intensity in games. In fact, because of how intense they are, Savage said he has to limit how much the two guard each other in practice.

"We're always competitive with each other, even with board games we play at home," Chiara said. "If we're not going against each other in practice, we still find ways to be competitive. Michela's a great free-throw shooter, but I always want to be better than her. If she makes nine free throws in a drill, I have to make 10."

"I feel like I can't ever let her get the edge on me because I'm the older one," Michela said. "Sometimes we get a little out of control, but it's all in good spirits. I love going against her."

Their defensive mindedness stems from soccer. Michela was a standout for the Bears, earning ThisWeek Super 12 captain honors as a freshman, sophomore and junior before opting to play club soccer with her sister last fall.

"Since I grew up playing soccer, defense came really naturally for me, I guess," said Michela, an Ohio State University soccer recruit.

"If your shot is not falling or things aren't going your way, you can always work hard defensively."

Michela said there is no better preparation for a game than going against each other in practice.

"We're very competitive with each other, but that's how it gets in games," she said. "In games, people are pulling on your jersey and fouling you. It's great to get that kind of competitiveness in a practice."

Some might think that the competitiveness between the Paradisos would cause friction in their relationship at times, but Chiara said that it doesn't and that playing on the same basketball and soccer teams has drawn them closer together.

"Once I started high school, Michela put her wing around me and said, 'I've got your back,'" Chiara said. "I don't know what I would do without Michela. She's a great sister and a great teammate. I wouldn't change anything about her."