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BOWLING GREEN -- Anderson County had been there before and it showed Thursday night.
The Lady Bearcats recovered from a slow start to dismantle Meade County, 75-51, in the final game of the firsr round at the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls' Sweet 16 at Diddle Arena.
It was the same business-like approach that had served Anderson well for 27 wins in 31 tries coming into the Sweet 16. The Lady Bearcats stuck to their plan and let their pressure and depth take its toll.
Meade County, whose Third Region championship had been a bit of a surprise, started to wilt in the second quarter as Anderson completed a 16-2 run that actually started when Makenzie Cann swished a three-pointer at the first quarter buzzer and lasted for the first 4:35 of the second frame. The Green Wave finally succumbed in the third frame, when Anderson continued its onslaught with a 20-9 deluge.
Eriel McKee led Anderson with 25 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Cann followed with 24 points anf five rebounds. Cann nailed 3-of-6 three-point attempts.
“I am proud of our kids for just staying with the game plan and continuing to play through even in times when things weren't going well,” said Anderson coach Tony Kays.
“We didn't panic. We were able to get in our press. After we got a few stops and scores and a couple of runs we were able to stretch the lead.”
Meade County simply had no answer for McKee, Cann or the Anderson press.
“Their pressure definitely hurt us a little bit. We weren't able to get over the top,” said Meade coach Josh Hurst, who finished at 16-16 after starting the season at 5-11. “They have some good length, obviously. I mean you have two Miss Basketball candidates up there and then you have five seniors on the floor. Their defense did make a lot of difference.”
Anderson, a heavy favorite in both of the major statewide computer rating services, already knew that top-ranked Elizabethtown, a 75-61 winner over Sacred Heart in the evening's first game, would be waiting for the winner. Unlike the previous year when the Lady Bearcats sizzled Henderson County early in the Sweet 16 opener, they missed seven straight shots after Cann's game-opening layup. Meade had jumped out to an early 8-2 lead that sent the sea of green-shirted fans into a quick frenzy.
“We came out and played pretty well in the first four minutes,” Hurt said. “We played as good as we could have hoped for and played tremendous defense. We guarded the way we wanted to guard. They hit those shots and we hit a cold streak we couldn't afford.”
McKee stopped the funny business with a short jumper, then after Meade's Morgan Turner misfired on a three, McKee grabbed the rebound, then whipped a pass to Cann who nailed the first quarter buzzer-beater.
“I thought Meade County came in well-prepared,” Kays said. “Part of (Anderson's early scoring problem) was because of their defense.”
But Anderson quickly regrouped and got a major lift with Cann's three.
“We have played here several times so it definitely helped,” Cann said of Anderson not getting caught up in the hoopla of the Sweet 16. “We had already been through it.”
Meade never led again after Cann's three.
By halftime, Anderson was in firm control, 29-18.
To compound matters for Meade, Anderson had been successful in taking the ball directly at Turner and Raley Johnson, Meade's top two players. Within a second of each other, they picked up their third fouls just over a minute into the second half.
Anderson responded with a 13-2 run and by late in the third quarter, the Lady Bearcats had more than doubled the score when McKee converted a three-point play to make it 47-23.
“It was our experience and the leadership of (McKee and Cann),” Kays said of Anderson's improved play as the game went on. “We didn't use any magic formula,” Kays said. “We just continued to play with our set plays that we have been running all year. Some were more successful than others. We were able to get to the basket and get some quick fouls on Turner and Johnson.
“Our game plan, especially in the second half, was to come out and attack. Fortunately, it worked for us. It made a difference for them when they got into foul trouble.”
Anderson hit 18-of-25 foul shots while Meade only shot nine, hitting seven.
“It was very difficult. But that is the way it goes. Basketball is a tough game to call. We respect the decisions we received,” Hurt said. “That is the way it goes. We were battling hard on some of those. In a different world, they may not go that way. Obviously we are a team that cant handle haivng Morgan and Raley in foul trouble. That is no disrespect for the calls. That is just the truth of the matter. Whenever one is in foul trouble it hurts and when both were in foul trouble that really hurt.”
But while the Meade players shed tears profusely, Anderson was obviously thrilled with advancing in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.
While Cann and McKee get most of the ink, Kays was quick to note, “We have several kids that can put the ball in the basket.”
Robinson and Marissa Walker both scored seven points in reserve roles.
But there could also be little dought the Lady Bearcats are Cann and McKee's team. “I have seen it so much over the years we take it for granted at times.They have been doing that for their whole career,” Kays said of the 49 points and 16 rebounds that Cann and McKee shared. “It is just something we expect them to do. I think they expect that of themselves. It is huge to know you have two players who can get the key points and key rebounds.”
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