By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
North Laurel did a lot of things right in the 49th District title game. The Lady Jaguars shut down the Clay County inside game and held leading scorer Cheyenne Madden to five points, 14 below her average. They also out rebounded Clay County. But they didn’t win the game. Clay County opened a double digit lead in the first quarter and stayed safely ahead on the way to 59-43 win.
“I was afraid we were going to get out muscled in the post and that didn’t quite happen. Instead we got out shot by an eighth grader in Talaura Mathis,” North Laurel coach Eddie Mahan said.
Mathis scored 24 points by making eight three-pointers, including her first four in the first quarter. Mathis had made 61 three-pointers coming into Friday’s game and was shooting 37 percent behind the arc.
“They wanted to take away the paint. A couple of people have tried it this year and it worked. We played South Laurel and (Mathis) couldn’t buy one. She went 0-for-6. You just never know,” Clay County coach James Burchell said.
A defense usually has to bend somewhere, so while the inside defense built a wall, Mathis looked as calm as shooting in the backyard.
“If you don’t get out on someone like her, she is going to light you up. She is going to play Horse all day long and beat you. That’s what she did to us tonight,” Mahan said.
For Mathis to have a big night, it took someone to get her the ball. Clay County point guard Alsiha Mitchell scored 18 points with most coming on penetration and pull up jumpers from the lane. Mitchell also forced the defense to go where she wanted them. Mahan said Mitchell knew exactly where to penetrate to draw help away from the shooter.
“Mitchell is just one of those excellent players that is smart enough. It’s not her quickness that is going to beat you, it’s her basketball IQ,” Mahan said.
The experience and big-game pedigree may have been what pushed Clay County to an early lead. The Lady Tigers scored the first eight points with Mathis making two three-pointers in the opening minutes. It equaled the number she averages per game.
“For me the biggest problem of this entire game for us was the first quarter because we came out nervous. Clay came out to win. Their experience got them a 10 or 11-point lead in the first quarter,” Mahan said. “That’s hard to come back from on a good team .”
Kayla Bruner slashed to the basket for North Laurel’s first points four minutes into the game. Mitchell answered with a pull-up in the lane. Then Mathis buried her third three-pointer. Ashley Wyatt scored on a offensive rebound for North Laurel. Mathis drained her fourth three-pointer for a 16-4 lead.
“I knew she could shoot. That was part of the scouting report. I said we have to get out after her. Those are the little things I think our kids have to learn is how to apply the scouting report from practice to a game situation,” Mahan said.
Clay County led 21-10 after one quarter although Madden had been shut out. The Lady Tigers had been out-rebounded 8-3. The most telling statistic for North Laurel was seven turnovers.
The Lady Jaguars were caught off guard when Clay County opened the game in man-to-man defense.
“If you would have told me yesterday they would come out in man against us and definitely if they switched their lineup away from the two bigs, I would have taken that and ran,” Mahan said. “I would have thought we had a great chance to come out of the first quarter on top.”
When the Lady Tigers did switch to a zone, it worked as well.
“When they went zone is when we tightened up. We usually have pretty good shooters that can knock it down. They weren’t there today. They weren‘t looking for their shots,” Mahan said.
The Lady Jaguars again did some things very well in the second quarter. They held Clay County to a single field goal, a Mathis three-pointer, and again held their own on the boards. North Laurel had pulled within 23-17 with 2:50 in the half. They would wish the half ended there.
After the Mathis three-pointer, North Laurel committed back-to-back turnovers. A foul sent Clay County’s Sabrina Smith to the line. Smith made the first shot. When she missed the second, it looked like only Clay County wanted the rebound. Morgan Chestnut pulled the rebound and was fouled. That would allow the Lady Tigers to push back ahead by 11 at halftime.
Those final minutes could have turned the game.
“We sort of kept them from getting to the rim. We knew they wanted to spread us out and try to drive us and draw fouls. They were successful somewhat doing that, but they weren’t able to score enough to get ahead of us,” Burchell said. “I think if they ever could have gotten the lead and put a little more pressure on us it would have worked.”
Clay County found success inside in the third quarter, but still got two more Mathis threes. Bruner tried to keep pace with a pair of three-pointers, but Clay County still led by double digits for all but a minute early in the third quarter. They took a comfortable 44-28 lead into the fourth quarter. The lead peaked at 51-32 on the final bomb from Mathis.
“There is no doubt about how good they are and how experienced they are,” Mahan said. “They are on top of the mountain and we are the one’s that are upstarts trying to knock them off. We have to come out with that aggressiveness. We didn’t do that tonight,” Mahan said.
Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament at the Arena in Corbin. All the Lady Jaguars knew after Friday’s game was that they would be playing a district winner, Whitley County, Harlan County, or Knox Central., in the first round.
“Our kids can do it when they want to and when they are focused. When they are ready to do it and they are into the ballgame, they are as good as any team in this region and I will stand by that,” Mahan said. “Our problem is getting that mentality to play for 32 minutes.”
Girls’ 49th District Tournament
at North Laurel
Clay County 59, North Laurel 43
Clay County 21 7 16 15—59
North Laurel 10 7 11 15—43
CLAY COUNTY (59)—Roberts 2, Cotton 4, Mitchell 18, Smith 1, Mathis 24, Chestnut 3,Madden 5, Robinson 2.
NORTH LAUREL (43)—Woolum 9, Boggs 3, Proffitt 6, Ellington 5, Bruner 12, Wyatt 8.