England coach David Mackey doesn’t try to get overly complicated when assessing his basketball team.
“When you’ve got the twins, you can win a lot of ballgames.”
That was his assessment following the Lady Lions’ thrilling 72-68 victory over host Beebe in the semifinal round of the Holiday Classic tournament at Badger Sports Arena on Thursday.
Janeka and Jameka Watkins have been through their fair share of big games in front of hostile crowds, and the twin senior guards proved it in front of a packed house with 25 points each.
Miller led the way for the Lady Badgers with 25 points to match the Watkins pair while Jackson added 23 despite an off night from the floor for the standout junior guard.
England tried matching Beebe inside early and quickly found itself down 17-6 in the first quarter before lighting it up behind the arc late in the half to come back and lead 33-32 at the break.
The outside touch stayed with the Lady Lions (14-3) through the third quarter with nine more points from outside as they pulled out to a 46-36 lead midway through.
The Lady Badgers (8-3) got most of their points closer to the rim. Miller and Jackson created opportunities in transition.
Lady Badger sophomore post player Angelina Williams, managed 19 points despite constant swarming from England’s defense. Williams also led in rebounds for the game with eight and had two blocks for the 6-3 sophomore. Beebe’s inside advantage was no match for England’s three-point assault that also included the shooting talents of Ana Dunbar and Tori Lantz.
“Size is a major factor right there,” Mackey said. “We were worried about the big post girl early, and we let (Miller) get off on us right there, but we never lost our poise out there. I was very proud of our girls tonight.”
Both teams had easy roads to the semifinal round as Beebe downed Des Arc 51-20 in Wednesday’s first round while England clobbered Lonoke 57-35. England faced Pulaski Academy in the championship game Friday night while Beebe took on Sacred Heart in the third-place game.
Things went Beebe’s way early as Miller scored off a steal and feed from senior guard Alexis Miguel to give the Lady Badgers an early 6-4 lead, and Jackson earned a trip to the foul line off another steal, hitting both ends to make it 8-4 with 5:03 left to play in the opening period.
Miller upped it to 10-4 with another transition score, and followed a Jackson free throw with a jumper in the lane for a 13-4 Beebe lead. That drew England’s defense out just enough for a pair of inside baskets from Williams to give the Lady Badgers their biggest lead at 17-6.
But Janeka Watkins changed momentum for England when she followed a successful trip to the line with a three-point basket off a steal by Dunbar to quickly cut Beebe’s lead to 22-19 with 6:09 remaining in the half.
Jameka Watkins hit her threes early in the third and fourth quarter, while adding a basket and free throw to start the final period to put the Lady Lions up 51-46.
“The twins are awesome,” Mackey said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever have another group of girls like them. They’re not the only players – we’ve got other great players, but the twins are a blessing to coach.”
Dunbar added 12 points for England.
The Lady Badgers rallied in the late going and cut the margin to 71-68 with a trip down the court to tie in the final 10 seconds before Jackson lost the ball and Jasmine Taylor came up with it for England with less than three seconds remaining.
“There’s a reason why those two girls are going to UCA to play. They’re very good,” Beebe coach Greg Richie said. “And the thing about them is, if you pressure them, or if you try to double off on them, they’ve got players who can knock down shots any time out there.
“The way they shot tonight, they would beat a lot of teams in this state.”