Friday, November 26, 2010

SPORTS >> Wolff gets loose in Jungle

Leader sportswriter

Melissa Wolff made herself welcome in “The Jungle” during Cabot’s visit to Searcy on Tuesday night.

The junior guard/forward steamrolled through the storied gym and helped herself with a triple-double to lead the Lady Panthers to a 60-39 victory over the Lady Lions. Wolff scored 22 points, had 13 rebounds and 10 steals.

Searcy relied on seniors Elliot Scarbrough and Lindsay Hanshew to handle most of the backcourt pressure from Cabot’s stifling press, but Wolff did not let up once the ball crossed center court.

Most of her steals came in the frontcourt as she converted them into a number of transition layups and also found open teammates for six assists as part of her statistics-blasting bonanza.

“She played really good,” Lady Panthers coach Carla Crowder said. “She didn’t finish all of her shots, but she played real well.”

Turnovers were a constant struggle for the Lady Lions (0-3), who are rebuilt after last year’s run to the 6A state final, and they let their inexperience show while trying to deal with Cabot’s full-court defensive attack. In all, Searcy turned the ball over 28 times.

“We were trying to do some different things,” Crowder said. “I’m real excited; our girls played real hard. A lot of our shots didn’t fall. We’ve played eight games in nine days, so we’ve played a lot of games. It’s been good for us.”

The Lady Panthers established momentum early with baskets from Wolff and Jaylin Bridges in the first two minutes. Wolff made it 8-0 when she made a three-pointer from the top of the key with 5:32 left in the opening period.

Giveaways were not the only concern for Searcy, as senior forward Scarbrough committed two fouls in the first minute and got her third with 3:10 left in the first half. Junior forward Julisa Anthony also went into intermission with three fouls.

Scarbrough fought back later in the first quarter with seven of her 11 points, including a basket and free throw with 5:10 left in the first to put Searcy on the scoreboard. Her pull-up jumper from 10 feet with 2:46 left cut Cabot’s lead to 12-5, and Scarbrough followed that with a pair of free throws to make it 12-7.

“Whenever the pressure gets on, our inexperience shows,” Lady Lions coach Michelle Birdsong said. “I think that we will get better the more games we play. I was really proud of our first half; we handled the ball much better than the second half.

“They shot the ball really well, and we didn’t get out on them defensively.”

Cabot (3-2) used its shooting depth to keep Searcy off balance on the offensive side.

Bridges went inside on the Lady Lions with a shot in the lane, after a rebound and assist from Wolff, with 6:18 left in the first half. Bridges drove to the basket for two points two minutes later after a three-pointer from reserve post Laci Boyett.

But it was Wolff’s hands in the defensive front court that continued to hurt the Lady Lions, as she got her first steal of the third quarter to set up Elliot Taylor and had another steal she took all the way to the hoop to put the Lady Panthers ahead 39-25 with 4:18 left in the third.

“They’ve seen it once or twice, but not enough to get us ready,” Birdsong said of Cabot’s press. “It’s good for us to play teams like this because everybody in our conference is quick, and everybody’s going to press. So the more we see of that now, the better we’re going to be in conference.”

Senior post player Chelsea Butler led the Lady Lions with 13 points and eight rebounds. Scarbrough added six rebounds to go with her 11 points.

“I’m seeing some improvement, and some adjustments we need to make,” Birdsong said. “I think some of our younger players are stepping up, and I think that’s going to help us in the long run.”

Taylor finished with 13 points and four steals for the Lady Panthers, while Bridges added 12 points and five assists.

“I think we’re all playing hard,” Crowder said. “We’re starting to come together. We’re eight people deep, and I’m real pleased with our effort.”