Plenty of words, photos and news print has been devoted to the Columbus girls basketball team’s two best players throughout the season.
Big inside presences Tatyana Wyatt and Ariyah Copeland, both juniors, average 22 and 15 points, respectively, this season and have been the primary reason the Lady Blue Devils are set to play in the Class 5A quarterfinals (3 p.m. Friday vs. Southwest Dekalb at the Lumpkin Center).
What shouldn’t go overlooked, however, is the impact made by the team’s guards. Players like Brittany Floyd, Nasya Williams and Trinity Vasquez have willingly taken a backseat, understanding that the offense works from the inside out. Their ability to break presses and set up the half-court offense has been invaluable, though, according to coach Joe Cherrone. And should Columbus advance to the final four for the second time in three years, they will be a major reason why.
Columbus witnessed firsthand the importance of its guard play this year in region play. It struggled against Carver’s heavy full-court pressure and, as a result, dropped two games to the Lady Tigers in the regular season. When the two teams met in the region championship game, however, Floyd had perhaps the greatest impact in keeping the Lady Blue Devils on an even pace as they went on to win.
“Brittany has done an excellent job being patient,” Cherrone said. “She’s slowed us down and she understands what she can and can’t do.”
Against a team that is lengthy and fast, like Southwest Dekalb is, Cherrone said strong play from Floyd and the other guards is imperative.
“They’re just so important, especially on the press break,” he said. “And with a team like Southwest Dekalb that is so long and lengthy, it’s important that we have good ball handlers so that we can get our offense started in the half court.”
Once Columbus is in its half-court offense, the play goes inside more times than not. But that can become a challenge, especially against teams with good interior size and speed like Southwest Dekalb, because both Wyatt and Copeland will face double- and triple-teams throughout the contest.
Cherrone has called on his guards to be willing to shoot the ball more in these situations.
“We need our guards to be confident enough to pull the trigger,” Cherrone said. “Brittany Floyd can shoot the basketball, so that’s the thing. If you’re open, shoot the ball. I don’t put any restraints on her whatsoever. If she can put the ball in the basket, that will change the game.”
Floyd willingly admitted that she prefers to be a facilitator rather than a scorer. She looks for her bigs inside first so much that occasionally she’s passing up an open shot.
“A lot of people tell me I don’t shoot enough,” she said, smiling sheepishly when asked if Cherrone is the one telling her that so much. “Yeah, I usually look to pass the ball first.”
But Cherrone said she, Williams and Vasquez can all shoot the ball well enough to take the opportunities, which could open up the interior for Copeland and Wyatt.
Cherrone has called upon a game in the not-so-distant past as an example for his team this week. In 2014, the Lady Blue Devils took on Columbia in the Class 4A quarterfinals. They fell behind by double digits in the first half, but battled back to win the game and eventually earn a berth in the state championship.
Columbia was similar in that it had a size advantage over Columbus, particularly at guard, but the Lady Blue Devils were able to use their speed to overcome the disadvantage.
“It comes down to fight,” Cherrone said. “We have to come out and be aggressive, know where the shooters are and contest those shots.
“Just knowing that you’ve been there before and you’ve played from behind, it’s huge. It allows them to come out with a lot of confidence.”
Columbus vs. Southwest Dekalb
What: Class 5A state quarterfinals
When: 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26
Where: Frank G. Lumpkin Center, Columbus State campus