Saturday, March 01, 2008

SPORTS >> Cabot girls fall flat in quarterfinals

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY — The only thing more tenacious than the Lady Bulldogs’ offense was their stifling defense.

In what was up to that point a letdown for the West Conference in both boys and girls brackets during the opening round of the 7A state tournament, Fayetteville backed up its No. 1 seeding with a 68-36 blowout win over Cabot in the quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon at Wampus Cat Arena. The Lady Bulldogs finished with three players in double figures, while containing Cabot’s offense both inside and out.

The Lady Panthers shot 45 percent from the floor, but converted only 1-of-11 three-point attempts, tried everything in the book to find an advantage. That included a post-heavy lineup featuring juniors Shelby Ashcraft and Stephanie Glover, along with 6-2 sophomore center Sara Moore midway through the opening period.

What Fayetteville lacked in height, however, it made up for in hustle and aggressiveness. It was speed, not size, that made the difference on the boards, as the Lady ’Dogs outrebounded Cabot 34-23.

“The kids played hard, we just couldn’t do anything,” said Cabot head coach Carla Crowder. “They kicked our butts, basically. We didn’t play any kind of defense; we were really out of sync, and couldn’t get it back.”

The game stayed reasonably close through the first half, but cold hands for senior shooters Lauren Walker and Leah Watts was a bad omen early. Watts had shot the lights out of Conway’s new state-of-the-art facility the day before during a 12-point win over Bentonville, but that magic had disappeared by Thursday afternoon.

Watts did convert the only three-pointer of the game for Cabot with 32 seconds remaining in the third quarter, but by that time, the Lady Bulldogs had built themselves a comfortable 41-28 lead. Fayetteville senior post Chantlee Nash added two of her game-high 20 points before the third quarter buzzer to push the score to 43-28 entering the final frame.

“Our inside players played well and shot well,” Fayetteville coach Bobby Smith said. “For them, it wasn’t one of their best shooting nights. It’s amazing to beat one of Carla’s teams like this; she’s a historical figure. I mean that in terms of how many games she’s won and titles she has — not her age.”

It ended up as a swan song for Walker, Watts and Morgan Verkler, but juniors Stephanie Glover and Jenna Bailey willbe back to help lead the Lady Panthers during their ’08-’09 campaign.

“When you get in a rhythm like we’ve been in, you start thinking you can go all the way,” Bailey said. “We just need more focus if we get the chance to come back next year.” Glover all but stated that the tough loss added fuel to the fire.

“For me, it just makes me want to go out and start practicing for next year tomorrow,” Glover said.

Walker led the Lady Panthers with 10 points and seven rebounds, with nine points and seven rebounds for Ashcraft. Watts ended her career as a Lady Panther with seven points, and Glover finished with six points. Cabot finished 18-11.

For Fayetteville, Nash led all scorers with 20 points and 17 rebounds, along with two blocks. The Lady Bulldogs improved to 24-4 on the season, and will play Fort Smith Northside in the semifinals today at noon.