Lady Royals Struggle In Semifinal Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Feb 20, 2014, 20:48
David Breidenbach/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
MIDLOTHIAN — Prince George head Billy Gray worried before the game about whether his team would come out of the gates strong after not having played a contest in over a week. After just 5:40 of game-action, Gray was forced to call a timeout as his biggest fears materialized on the court in front of him.
The Lady Royals started off the game flat and when combined with the rust of being inactive, Manchester was able to take the attack to them. In fact, the Lady Lancers dominated the action through much of the first period led by a stingy defensive effort which held Prince George's leading scorer Ariel Stephenson to just two shot-attempts.
In addition, Manchester's Shalyn Washington showcased her coast-to-coast arsenal in converting steals into transition baskets for 10 points in the first quarter alone. Yet, the Lancer's effort would not last.
Prince George regrouped defensively in the second quarter, limiting Manchester to just four points while taking a lead they would not relinquish in a 43-38 Conference 12 Tournament semifinal victory at Clover Hill.
"We hadn't played in a week and we were flat and rusty, but the last time we played them, we beat them by 31 points," Gray said of his team's effort. "As much as you try to get the kids mentally prepared, they remember that ... one good thing about this team is they settle in and take care of business."
And a big reason for their ability to refocus themselves and go back to executing at a high-level is because of the play of their point guard Jo-Jo Taylor.
It was Taylor's ability to get into the passing lanes, hurl herself at loose balls and hit some timely shots which helped the rest of her teammates pick up their own games. In fact, of Taylor's four recorded steals — three of them led directly to points for the Lady Royals.
Her penchant for being a terror defensively was made even more impressive when after picking up two fouls in the middle of the first quarter, Taylor did not pick up another one the rest of the game and did so without modifying her ball-pressure tactics.
Yet, on this night Taylor also impressed with her ability to hit the timely shots.
As the Lancers' defense continued to roll toward the side Stephenson was on, it was Taylor who was left open and she made Manchester pay by scoring 8 points with five of those coming from the charity-stripe after drawing fouls on penetrating drives.
"She does her job every time she steps on the basketball court," Gray said. "She gets at it defensively, she handles the ball well for us, she makes good passes, she'll steal the ball and she'll get some rebounds. Jo is just solid and if I were team's, I'd double-team her sometimes."
Yet, by the end of the contest, Stephenson had made her usual big-time impact.
While Manchester played one of the better defensive games in order to limit Stephenson — their 2-3 zone was stingy and had a triangle focus on the Lady Royal's junior forward — she was able to capitalize on the chances she did get. Stephenson attempted just eight attempts all night, but connected on six of them en route to a game-high 22-point effort.
David Breidenbach/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Included in her 6-of-8 shooting night was a 3-of-4 effort from beyond the arc, showcasing her seemingly unlimited range. However, while her point total takes center stage — she scored 51 percent of the Royal's points — she impacted the game in other categories as well.
On a night she filled up the stat-sheet, Stephenson corralled eight rebounds with four of those on the offensive glass, picked the Lady Lancer's pockets for two steals and showed off her athleticism in swatting away two shots.
"We have been in games where Ariel doesn't have to score as many points as she usually does and the other kids have to step up," Gray said. "We missed some lay-ups and we didn't attack the basket like we are used to doing ... but this is a game you are sure glad you won and are happy with your kids handling everything that happened."
It's also a game that Gray can use to reinvigorate his team and refocus them for a finals match-up against an extremely talented L.C. Bird squad which could give the Lady Royals one of their biggest tests of the season.
"Mentally the girls now know that even a team we beat badly could beat us if we don't do things right," Gray said of his team. "Mentally they are going to go into knowing they can't play like they did tonight."
The Royals have reeled off 21-straight victories, but in order to knock off the Skyhawks they will need to play well from the start or else they could see a deficit that's too large to overcome, giving them their first taste of adversity all season.