Tuesday, December 13, 2011

SPORTS >> Lady Panthers cruise to Pre-Holiday championship

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Lady Panthers christened their new gymnasium in dominant fashion by winning their own Cabot Pre-Holiday Basketball Tournament with a 73-52 victory over Nettleton in the championship game at Panther Arena on Saturday.

The Lady Panthers (5-2) made quick work of Searcy the night before in the semifinal round. Earlier in the week they handled Harding Academy 66-46.

Focusing their attention to a Lady Raiders team that proved able to run the floor with Cabot at times, the host team’s full-court defensive pressure was all that was needed to turn a potentially close game into a one-sided affair.

“I thought we played a lot better defensively,” Lady Panthers coach Carla Crowder said. “We just have to continue to be strong and rebound, and to stop dribble penetration. I thought toward the end, we did a better job of that.”

Senior utility player Melissa Wolff led the way for the Lady Panthers with 20 points, 14 rebounds and five steals while junior Taylor Elliot added 13 points and nine rebounds.

Elliot gave Cabot an early 5-1 lead with repeated trips to the foul line in the first two minutes. She missed the back end of her first attempt but was otherwise spot on, and got her first field goal moments later with a slashing jumper in the lane with an assist from senior post player Laci Boyett to put Cabot up 7-4.

It turned out to be a night of committee scoring for the Lady Panthers as point guard Jaylin Bridges also found her touch from the outside for 11 points. Boyett turned in another gritty inside performance and finished with 12 points, but the hard-nosed play of the night belonged to 5-4 senior guard Micah Odom, who gave three quarters of tough defensive play before finding her way to the rim in the fourth quarter for seven points.

“She always does a good job,” Crowder said. “She’s just such a battler and a hard worker. It’s a real pleasure to coach her.”

Wolff left few areas of the new court untouched as she used Cabot’s press to pick up quick steals that she converted herself or dished to open teammates in transition. Her three-pointer at the 5:24 mark of the first quarter gave the Lady Panthers a 12-4 lead before Ally Van Enk scored to give Cabot its first double-digit lead.

Nettleton kept pace with Cabot for the most part in the opening quarter but was not finding the same shot selection. The Lady Raiders did make a run early in the second quarter to cut the lead to 28-27 with 3:16 remaining in the second quarter. That turned out to be the closest they would come, however, as the Lady Panthers dialed up a stifling press that held Nettleton to two points for the remainder of the half.

Boyett scored with a putback under the goal at the 2:25 mark to make it 30-27 off a steal by Wolff, who was the beneficiary of the next turnover when Sydney Wacker stole the ball at midcourt and found Wolff headed toward the goal to make it 34-27. Wacker scored inside off a Wolff miss with 1:34 left to play before Nettleton scored to end the half.

Boyett led the Lady Panthers the night before in their 50-25 semifinals victory over Searcy with 13 points while Wolff and Bridges each added 10 points. Odom had six points while sophomore Britnee Broadway led the Lady Lions with 13 points.

The Lady Panthers are now 3-0 in the new Panther Arena after sweeping the tournament.

“This is just awesome – great facility,” Crowder said. “We’re so proud to be here. We’re happy to win this tournament, and to win in our own facility the first week we opened it, it’s exciting for us. And our kids enjoy playing in here.”