MONTGOMERY, ALA. – There are games when you can just look at the numbers in a box score and easily tell not only which team won the game but, if you’re an experienced box score reader, you can get a feel for how the game was played.
Central-Phenix City’s 57-43 win over Opelika in the AHSAA girls Central Regional final on Friday isn’t one of those box scores.
Each team made 16 field goals, neither team hit a 3-pointer. Opelika shot better from the floor (34.8 percent to 31.4) and better from the free throw line for the game (57.9 percent to 57.8). But if you dig a little deeper and you’ll find a few stats that speak a bit more about how Central plays basketball. Opelika turned the ball over 30 times, including 12 in the third quarter alone, and the Lady Red Devils had 46 rebounds, 23 on the offensive end, to earn their first trip to the AHSAA Final Four since 1993, coach Carolyn Wright’s second season at the helm. Central wins game with effort and hustle and the stats, eventually, take care of themselves. “We just didn’t play. We didn’t rise to the occasion,” Wright said about the first half. “We went through the motions. We didn’t play a good half at all. In the first half we just let them have easy baskets. They could just turn around and score. We just did not play a first half, that’s just the bottom line.”
So what did she tell her team during the break?
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“You do NOT want to know,” Wright said laughing with leading scorer B’Kiya Webb in the hall outside the locker room in Alabama State’s Acadome.
“We just talked about the game,” Webb said with a sheepish smile. “She calmly told us what we needed to work on in the second half.”
Wright agreed, sort of.
“I let them have it. We talked about what we were not doing.,” Wright said. “We didn’t run our girls down. We didn’t get into the trap. We always have a girl back and I don’t know what happened to her in that first half. They were trying to have a pity party and I just said ‘You all did not come to play the first half. Opelika came to play.’ They outhustled us in the first half. We went through the motions. We had to come out and play. We talked about that at the half.”
Whatever she said – and however she said it – it seemed to work.
Central scored the first three baskets of the third quarter, buckets by Jimechia Banks, Ju’el Beasley and Webb, to knot the game at 26 with 5:10 to play in the quarter.
After trading a couple of baskets, Central went on a 5-0 run to finish the quarter up 37-32 and pretty much in control.
“We played an ugly first half,” Wright said. “We realized that if we don’t come out and play our game that we will get that second-place trophy that we didn’t want.”
Dig back into that box score from earlier and you’ll begin to see how Central won this game.
The Lady Red Devils made four of 15 free throws in the first half ((26.7 percent). In the second half, with the outcome of the game hanging in the balance, Central shot 29 free throws and made 21 of them (72.4 percent).
“We just took a breathe and did the things we do well,” Wright said. “We made the plays when we needed to make them.”
Getting to the charity strip – and making a few shots – helped Central set up it’s press more in the third quarter.
“The press is just what worked for us in the second half,” Webb, who scored 22 points and had 11 rebounds for Central, said. “We were trying so hard to adjust to how they were playing and we weren’t playing our game. Once we started playing our game we began to pull away.”
Next up for Central will be Hoover, a 52-48 winner over Shades Valley on Friday morning at the Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State at 9 a.m. in Birmingham on Friday.
“We know the team we’re going to face is going to be much tougher than today,” Wright said. “That’s just how it works. We’re going to work, work, work. We’ll work hard and try to stay focused mentally.”
Webb was named the Regional’s MVP. Joining her on the the all-tournament team were teammate Banks, Opelika’s Bethany Howard and Kendall Adams, Jeff Davis’ Monterika Warren and Carver-Montgomery’s Diamond Glover.
Friday in MontgomeryCentral 14 6 17 20 – 57Opelika 10 16 6 11 – 43
Central (57)Watkins 4, Jimechia Banks 15, B’Kiya Webb 22, Beasley 5, Lane 2, Shanks 3, McMillon 6
Opelika (43)Savage 4, Garner 3, Kendall Adams 13, Howard 2, Frazier 4, Williams 6, Chatman 6, Cannon 4, Mathews 1Team records: Central is 33-1, Opelika closes the season at 25-6. Next game: Central plays Hoover at 9 a.m. Friday in the AHSAA Final Four representing 6A in Birmingham.