DOTHAN, Ala. -- There was nothing especially unique in the fact defending Class 5A state champion Faith Academy defeated Russell County on Wednesday in the South Regional at the Dothan Civic Center.
However, Unique Thompson was a huge factor in the 52-32 win. Thompson, a 6-foot-2 freshman center, scored seemingly at will in compiling 27 points and 19 rebounds to lead the Rams.
Faith Academy (23-5) advances to the regional championship game on Friday at 1:20 p.m. against B.C. Rain. The Rams have now won 15 straight games.
Russell County, which lost its first 10 games to begin the season, finishes with an 11-11 record.
"We couldn't stop No. 20 (Thompson) no matter what we did," Russell County coach Shawn Taylor said. "We really couldn't tell how big she was on film, just from the positioning of the camera, but we knew she was a big girl. So we worked on trying to stop her in the low post and we just couldn't do that. She was bigger than we thought.
"We fronted her and we also played behind her, trying to do a little bit of everything. But she knew how to get open. She knew how to handle the ball when she got it down there and she could put it in the basket."
A year go en route to a state title, Faith Academy was led by standout Jasmine Rhodes, who now plays at LSU.
The Rams have simply reloaded with some tremendous young talent, which includes Thompson and eighth-grade guard Kahli Rankins. Both have averaged 14 points during the season.
Thompson says she doesn't feel intimidated going against more experienced players.
"I don't feel afraid because I know my team has my back," Thompson said. "I listen to my coaches and I know they support me full time."
The Rams went to Thompson early and often against Russell County with great results.
"I definitely think our inside game was the difference in the game," Faith Academy coach Woodie Head said. "We didn't shoot well today from the outside, but when the inside game is working, we didn't have to shoot from the outside."
Russell County hung tough early, trailing 13-7 at the end of the first quarter. But Faith Academy stretched the lead to 32-14 by halftime and led by 26 at the end of the third quarter.
Russell County was led by Teyah Johnson with 12 points and Tiyah Johnson with 11.
Taylor is proud of how his team progressed over the course of the season after the tough start.
"I told the girls I wanted them to forget about 0-10, but I also wanted them to have that sense what it felt like to be 0-10," Taylor said. "That's something we discussed, because we didn't want to be there again.
"We're very young. I start three freshmen, one sophomore and one senior. We had to overcome going 0-10. We could have quit and we didn't. The girls chose to fight and we made it to the Sweet 16 and I think that's a testament to their hard work."
Wednesday at Dothan Civic CenterRussell Co. 7 7 3 15--32
Faith 13 19 11 9--52
Russell County (32)
Deshondra Green 4, Tiyah Johnson 11, Teyah Johnson 12, Keila Judge 2, Ladajia Jones 3.
Faith Academy (52)
Brittany Ford 1, Rankins 5, Young 8, Powell 1, Robinson 3, Unique Thompson 27, Cartehn 2, Ramos 3.
Records: Russell County 11-11, Faith Academy 23-5. Next: Russell County, season over. Faith Academy, vs. B.C. Rain, at Dothan, Friday, 1:20 p.m.