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SHELBYVILLE – There was never any doubt that the Anderson County Lady Bearcats would win their fifth consecutive 30th District championship Friday night.
Anderson never trailed in a 47-34 win over tourney host Collins, a convincing win over a team Anderson had routed by a combined 59 points that was expected.
The manner in which the second-ranked Lady Bearcats went about their business was not.
Layups rolled off the rim. Normally easy shots rattled around the basket before popping out. The Lady Bearcats hit only 4-of-11 free throws.
And still, they won their fifth straight district championship.
“They struggled with our 1-3-1 (zone defense) a bit, but they are No. 2 in the state for a reason,” Collins coach Phillip Conder said with a faint smile.
It was defense. Lots of defense.
“We work so hard to be sound defensively,” Anderson senior Kali Whiteside said. “Our defensive principles are there. One of the things (the coaches) always say is, ‘Offense doesn’t win games. Defense does.’”
It might have been a full court press or a half-court man-to-man. It really didn’t matter. Collins had no answer in the first half.
“Defense wins the championships for you,” Anderson coach Tony Kays said. “We wanted to make sure we were playing our game and to make sure our defense was sound. We gave up a couple in transition late in the game and we gave up a few cuts in the lane, but other than that, our defense is what carried us tonight.”
The teams traded opening baskets before Anderson went on a 9-2 run, making it 11-4 midway through the first quarter. Over the next four minutes, guard Destiny Stewart buried her second and third 3-pointers of the night and the crowning that nearly everyone expected was on.
“Destiny is one of our best shooters,” Kays said. “She always has been but she doesn’t look for her shot a lot this year, but I am as happy with her shooting the open shot as anybody. The last few games, she has been on a little roll for us.”
Collins tried spreading the floor. The Titans used some 1-4 offense. Neither worked. By halftime, when Anderson led 27-12, Collins star Aaliyah Wells, who had scored 36 points in the Titans' double overtime win over Shelby County in the district opener, had just six points. She would eventually finish with 19.
“We knew if we held Wells to under 20, we would be in good shape, no matter how we play offensively.”
“She is a really good player,” Whiteside added. “She works really hard.”
Friday, the Lady Bearcats scored the first 13 points of the second quarter to go up 27-7. Perhaps the only surprise was that the margin never got higher.
Part of that was the result of foul trouble. Whiteside had been saddled with three by halftime. Eriel McKee played much of the second half with three, then was whistled for her fourth in the final stanza.
But most of it was Anderson's difficulty in solving Collins' ever-changing defenses. The Lady Bearcats turned the ball over 11 times, an affliction compounded by 41.7 percent shooting. Given that the Lady Bearcats missed countless layups, it would be fair to speculate that Anderson's margin of victory should have been much larger.
“We missed a few, but our looks at the basket were very good, especially in the first half,” Kays said. “I don’t think we took a bad shot in the first half.”
Collins tried to make things interesting, however. Wells' steal and layup cut Anderson's lead to 34-25, then after Makenzie Cann drove for a layup, Wells hit two free throws to make it 36-27 with 6:04 to go.
Down the stretch however, Cann and McKee, the top two vote-getters on the All-Eighth Region Team, took over. McKee scored seven of her 19 points in the final six minutes, four coming off Cann passes. Cann put the icing on the victory with a steal out of Anderson's 2-3 zone. She drove for a layup that increased the margin to 47-31 and the celebration started.
“They are both wonderful offensive players,” Whiteside said.
Both teams move on to the Eighth Region Tournament, starting Wednesday night at North Oldham High School. At 29-1, Anderson is riding a 21-game win streak. Collins enters the regional tournament at 15-14.
“They know what they are capable of,” Kays said. “Some nights you don’t play your best offensively. You turn the ball over and make mistakes but if you are playing hard and playing together, good things will happen.
“Keeping the (district championship) streak going is something to be proud of.”
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