The Upper Arlington High School girls basketball team knows it will need a dependable scoring option behind junior forward Andi Norman if it is to make any noise in the Division I district tournament.
Lately, that's been Chiara Paradiso.
The 6-foot junior guard had seven points in a 42-32 win over Westland on Feb. 8, 12 in a 60-40 win over Granville on Feb. 6, 10 in a 58-43 loss to Hilliard Davidson on Feb. 1 and nine in a 36-30 win over Central Crossing on Jan. 29.
In addition, she averaged nine rebounds in a five-game stretch leading up to the Golden Bears' regular-season finale against Westland.
"She's one of the more athletic girls I've ever coached," coach Chris Savage said. "At this point in the season, it's more a matter of getting her unleashed on the glass and she's been fantastic there. She's been a great addition. She's been strong on help defense and with her rebounding. We're just trying to harness that athleticism and use it the right way."
UA, which is 11-11 overall and finished 8-6 in the OCC-Central Division, is seeded 23rd of 43 teams in the district and opens the tournament at 10th-seeded Pickerington Central in the first round at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. The winner plays host to 29th-seeded Westerville South in the second round at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20.
Paradiso, who did not play in a 44-30 loss to Olentangy Liberty on Feb. 2 because of a bloody nose, credited her teammates for her improvement.
"We've pushed each other hard at practice," Paradiso said. "I would guard a better player and the best defender would guard me, so I had to work hard and I've been held to a higher expectation than I have for myself, which made me practice harder. The team's done a great job of pressing me."
Norman is averaging a team-high 14.2 points, followed by Paradiso (5.8), junior guard Annika Wachtman (5.4) and freshman forward Kortney Eisenman (4.9).
Eisenman had 19 points and nine rebounds in a 74-28 win over Marion Harding on Jan. 5 and Wachtman had 19 points in a 62-48 win over Thomas Worthington on Jan. 18.
"As the season has progressed, we've had more and more people stepping up when we've needed them to," Norman said. "Chiara does whatever we need her to. She's tall and long and she can be a 1 (point guard), a 2 or 3 (shooting guards). If we need her to be a dependable second option, then she is. She brings an unbelievable spark. She's an unbelievable athlete, so whatever is needed of her, whether it's to score or in some games just to drive and get fouls, whatever we need, she's incredible out there."
UA has not played Pickerington Central or Westerville South this season. The second-round winner will play eighth-seeded Hilliard Davidson, Canal Winchester, Newark or Walnut Ridge in a district semifinal Feb. 28 at Bloom-Carroll.
Central is 16-6 overall and finished 9-5 in the OCC-Ohio under first-year coach James Stutzman after finishing 7-14 overall last season. Junior forward Allie Luther is averaging a team-high 10.1 points, followed by senior guard Phylicia Johnson (9.9) and sophomore guard Taylor Johnson (9.2).
"He's doing a really good job getting them going in the right direction," Savage said of Stutzman. "They have some skills and talents and it'll be a challenge for us. If we play really, really well, we'll have a chance."
Paradiso thinks the Bears have a better shot to succeed in the postseason than she did a few weeks ago, especially if they can score 50 or more points. The Bears are 5-2 when they reach that mark.
"We do better in games where we're underdogs," she said. "So often, we have three really good quarters and then one not so good; not bad, but not that good. When we play well, we realize we should be doing that all the time and we should be exceeding our standards and scoring 55 or 60 points a game, not 25 or 29."