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LEXINGTON – Anderson County learned about itself last Tuesday.
And the Lady Bearcats had to like what they found out in a 51-46 win at Lafayette to open the basketball season they are intent on making special.
The Lady Bearcats, nearly everyone's favorite to win the Eighth Region despite having three freshmen in the starting lineup, grew up last Tuesday. They grew up with Eriel McKee, one of those three freshmen not even making the trip because of an illness. And hey grew up even though Sydney Brown, a center that has been drawing interest from several Divison 1 colleges, got in early foul trouble and missed more than half the game.
“There are going to be very few nights when you are hitting on all cylinders,” said Anderson coach Tony Kays. “The thing I am most proud of is that Lafayette came out and smacked us in the mouth pretty good and we showed our composure.”
Kays was referring to Lafayette jumping to a quick 9-2 lead on a trio of 3-pointers from Jariana Gillispie and Emily Justice within the first three minutes. But Anderson recovered, taking a 30-18 lead midway through the second quarter and appeared ready to blow out an athletically-gifted team that was ranked as the best team in the city of Lexington in the Lexington Herald-Leader pre-season coaches' poll.
After a some slick passing from Mackenzie Cann and Caroline McDowell led to a layup from Kali Whiteside, the Lady Bearcats led 34-22 inside the final minute of the first half.
“I never thought that would happen,” Kays said. “Lafayette is well coached and too good. We really had problems with Kendrick inside.”
Shomari Kendrick, a 6-foot-2 senior who sat out last season after transferring from Dunbar, took advantage of Brown's absence to riddle the Lady Bearcats inside. Kendrick led all scorers with 18 points and had eight rebounds.
As late as midway through the third quarter, Anderson still led 39-30 when freshman guard Destiny Stewart nailed a 3-pointer, but Justice and Mackenzie Graham led Lafayette on a 10-2 run over a three minute span to make it 41-40. A basket by Caroline McDowell from along the baseline with three seconds left in the third gave the Lady Bearcats some breathing room.
“They gave us some problems posting their guards up inside,” Kays said. “Their length and athleticism gave us some problems.
“I don't want to think too much about Eriel not being able to play tonight. We are trying to develop our bench and somewhere along the line, we will have to play without someone. The kids did a good job of stepping up tonight.”
Lafayette got within 43-42 on a layup from Graham but got no closer. McDowell scored on a runout, then Brown put back a missed shot to make it 47-42, then after Brown scored off a McDowell assist, Cann sealed things with a pair of free throws with eight seconds left.
Cann led Anderson with 16 points and five rebounds. The sophomore also hit 4-of-5 free throws, Anderson's only charity tosses all night. She also handed out five assists and played all 32 minutes. Anderson was credited with 14 assists out of 22 field goals. With the crisp passing, the Lady Bearcats shot better than 51 percent from the field.
McDowell came up big, scoring 14 points with five rebounds and four assists. Stewart was also steady against the Lafayette pressure, never turning the ball over in 32 minutes of action.