Hazlehurst knocks off Wilkinson in 7-3A tournament

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

FAYETTE &045; Wilkinson County will just have to sit and wait to hear about their playoff future.

After a 49-41 loss to Hazlehurst (19-13) Thursday at the Division 7-3A Tournament, the Lady Wildcats’ (20-7) plans to host a first-round playoff matchup went up in smoke.

Wilkinson County, the No. 1 seed, had hoped to perform well in the tournament and host a first-round playoff game next week.

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But Hazlehurst had different ideas. The Lady Indians, the No. 4 seed, knocked off Wilkinson to advance to the championship game of the tournament at 7 p.m. today. Wilkinson will play in the consolation game at 4 p.m. today.

&uot;When a tournament starts, it’s anybody’s game to win,&uot; Wilkinson County coach Edwin White said. &uot;And when you’re No. 1, everyone’s coming to get you. You have to be ready for that.&uot;

The Lady Wildcats trailed for the entire second half, though they got as close as 37-39 with 2:06 remaining in the game. From that point on they struggled, as the Lady Indians hit their free throws down the stretch and Wilkinson County couldn’t score enough to make up the deficit in the final minutes.

The Lady Indians’ defensive plan was simple, Hazlehurst assistant coach Lequisha Johnson said.

&uot;Our plan was to keep 21 (Nakia Stewart) from scoring and pack it in inside,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;We knew they only had one scorer and she didn’t score at all in this game, just three points from the free throw line.&uot;

Hazlehurst employed a box-and-one defense, keeping one defender close on Stewart at all times and keeping the other four defenders closer in to the basket, effectively daring the Lady Wildcats to shoot over them.

The strategy worked brilliantly. Wilkinson didn’t shoot over the defense and struggled to score. Latasha Williams had some success penetrating the defense for scoring chances, but her 18 points didn’t come easy.

At the end of the game Wilkinson struggled mightily to score, getting just four points in the final two minutes, all from Kimberly Griffin. In that stretch, Hazlehurst scored 10 points, eight of that from the line as the Lady Wildcats were forced to foul to stop the clock.

&uot;We played very well defensively. That’s what won the game; we worked well as a team,&uot; Johnson said.

On offense, the Lady Indians were steady if unspectacular, getting the ball inside to post players Jalissa Sandifer and YaShunda Williams, who had 13 and 14 points in the game.

&uot;We executed well on offense,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;We had too many turnovers, but that was just us not using our fundamentals and passing the ball.&uot;

White said Hazlehurst did a good job getting the ball inside and scoring in the paint. The Lady Wildcats’ best post player, Ashley Dennis, was in foul trouble throughout the game and didn’t score a single point.

White traced his team’s troubles to the first half, in which he said his team came out lacking intensity.

&uot;The first half was a bad half for us, even though the score doesn’t indicate that,&uot; White said. &uot;(Craft) did a good job of keeping fresh legs in the game and they hit their free throws at the end.&uot;

Wilkinson may have also suffered from having a first-round bye in the tournament. Without a game to shake off the rust, the Lady Wildcats were forced to open against Hazlehurst, one of the division’s better teams.

&uot;The layoff probably hurt us a little too,&uot; White said. &uot;Maybe that’s a part of the reason they came out flat to start. But it’s more the mental part. If you’re mentally not focused, you can’t be successful.&uot;

Hazlehurst finished the regular season with the fourth-best record in the division, but many onlookers felt the Lady Indians were just as good as the three teams ahead of them in the standings.

&uot;I don’t think there’s much difference in the top four. We’re capable of beating anyone here,&uot; Johnson said.