Justin Dassylva is in his fourth season as the Utica High School boys basketball team's starting point guard.

Justin Dassylva is in his fourth season as the Utica High School boys basketball team's starting point guard.

That isn't to say his role hasn't evolved, however. That's especially true this year as the Redskins no longer have 6-foot-5 post player Michael Sandman, who is attending Ball State University on a baseball scholarship.

"(Dassylva's) in a tough situation, really. Not only does he have to score, but he has to do so many other things, too," second-year coach Eric Sheck said. "When he was younger, he was primarily a ball-handler and distributor of the basketball. The situation here has changed under my watch, and so has his role."

Dassylva, a 6-2 senior, has met those challenges head on. He was averaging a double-double entering last week's games, but one of those statistics isn't what many have come to expect from a point guard. Dassylva was the team's leading scorer at 17.4 points per game, and he also was averaging 11.2 rebounds as one of the top rebounders in central Ohio.

Dassylva averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds a year ago to earn Division II honorable-mention all-district honors.

"Eleven rebounds a game is fantastic at the high school level, and it's even more impressive coming from a point guard," Sheck said.

"He has a real knack for it. Rebounding is about positioning and about heart. His scoring goes up and down, but you can't replace what he does for us out on the floor."

Dassylva, who also averages more than four assists per game, believes the added responsibilities have made him a better all-around player. He showcased his many skills in two of last week's early games.

He had 17 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists as the Redskins beat Danville 61-43 last Monday. Then he scored a team-high 16 points and made the winning shot while driving the lane with 3 seconds remaining in overtime to lift the Redskins past visiting Johnstown 43-41 last Tuesday.

"My goal has always been to be a better basketball player - not just a better point guard," said Dassylva, who plans on attending the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima next year to study diesel mechanics. "I think everyone on this team has learned to fill a role, and as we've all done that we've gotten better."

The Redskins were 6-8 overall and 4-4 in the MBC entering last Friday's game at Loudonville. Last Tuesday's victory was the team's fourth in a row following a 2-8 start. They also topped Northridge 45-36 on Jan. 15 and avenged a first-round MBC setback by defeating East Knox 45-32 on Jan. 22.

"I can't say enough about how this team responded to the tough start we had," said Sheck, whose team also lost to the Johnnies in first-round play. "Nobody quit on this team and I give a lot of the credit to Justin and the other seniors for that."

Lakewood visits Monday before Utica resumes the MBC schedule Friday at home against Fredericktown, which won the first-round game 35-29 on Dec. 22.

CLAMPING DOWN -- Licking Valley girls coach Ty Crawmer came to the realization during an 0-5 start that his team was not going to be an offensive juggernaut. That's when he started stressing defense.

"We talked a lot about that and mental toughness," he said.

The Panthers clawed their back to a 5-9 overall record and 4-6 mark in the MSL-Ohio Division entering games last Friday against Whitehall and last Saturday against non-league Zanesville Rosecrans. They were allowing an average of 34.9 points dating to a 51-37 loss on Dec. 11 at Heath, and only once over that nine-game stretch did an opponent score more than 41 points against them.

Moreover, Licking Valley won the rematch with the Bulldogs 37-36 on Jan. 23 and held Megan White to just 13 points. That was her second-lowest point total of the season and first time in 33 games she didn't have a 3-pointer.

White, who averaged 20.3 points, was positioned to take a final shot in the closing seconds before Brittany Curry disrupted the play as Heath's 12-game winning streak ended. White managed just 12 points in the first-round game, and Licking Valley's other defensive catalysts include Hanna Dodson and Morgan Overbey. Modest offensive improvements have helped at the defensive end.

"We really started cutting back on our turnovers," Crawmer said. "That's made us a better defensive team because we aren't under constant pressure."

The Panthers play Tuesday at Columbus Academy and Saturday at Bexley. They defeated the Vikings 35-29 on Dec. 19 and lost 39-34 to the Lions on Jan. 5.