Tuesday, February 14, 2012

SPORTS >> Panthers hammer Charging Wildcats

Leader sports editor

Spectators didn’t get the down-to-the-wire finish they expected when they arrived for the Lady Panthers’ revenge game against first-place North Little Rock, but they got a treat nonetheless. The Cabot ladies simply wore out the Charging Lady Wildcats on Friday at Panther Arena, winning 69-53, avenging an earlier five-point loss and moving into a first-place tie atop the 7A Central standings.

The Lady Panthers put together a solid team effort to get the win. They had 11 steals and 19 assists in the game. They turned the ball over just seven times, while forcing North Little Rock into 22 turnovers.

“I think our kids were in shape and focused and just came out and played really well,” Cabot coach Carla Crowder said. They played so well together. They work really well together as a team and are such good teammates.”

The first quarter was evenly played with Cabot pulling out to a 16-12 lead. The game bogged down into a defensive struggle in the second quarter. Cabot went nearly five minutes in the second quarter without a basket and just one free throw. North Little Rock only managed one basket in that time.

Finally, with 3:10 left in the half, Cabot’s Alexandra VanEnk got a basket off a Melissa Wolff steal and assist to give the Lady Panthers a 19-14 lead. Cabot went on a tear over the final three minutes, or rather senior forward Lacy Boyett did.

Boyett got three steals on three consecutive North Little Rock possessions and turned them into seven points. She scored five straight with layups and a free throw. After the third steal, she found Wolff streaking towards the basket for a layup.

“That was big,” Crowder said of Boyett’s defensive burst. “She played really well for us. She’s been playing well. She does a lot of stuff. She’s so aggressive and assertive, we really need her energy. She brings a lot of energy and really gets everybody going.”

North Little Rock called timeout and with 2:06 still left in the half, it was 26-14 and the state’s No. 1 ranked team would not get any closer than 10 the rest of the game.

North Little Rock scored out of the timeout, but Cabot point guard Jaylin Bridges hit a three pointer to make it 29-16. Wolff then knocked the ball loose at midcourt and to Bridges who was near the top of the NLR key. Bridges then threw a court-length pass that would’ve made Tom Brady envious, clearing two Wildcat defenders and landing in Wolff’s hands on the run for a no-dribble layup that made it 31-16 with 40 seconds remaining until halftime.

The second half consisted of North Little Rock making mini-runs only to see Cabot answer each time. The Lady Panthers stretched the lead to 39-22 early in the third quarter, but North Little Rock cut it to 41-28. Boyett scored off a Wolff steal and assist at the buzzer to make it 43-28 heading into the final frame.

The Lady Wildcats were poised to make a serious run at the start of the fourth quarter. They forced Cabot into three straight turnovers on its first three possessions while cutting the margin to 43-32. They were able to force Cabot’s first timeout on the fourth possession when they trapped Bridges in the corner near midcourt with 6:52 left in the game. Still Cabot couldn’t score and Sandy Mayed added a free-throw to make it 43-33 with 6:36 on the clock.

Cabot finally ended the run when Bridges nailed a three from the corner 18 seconds later. Post player Sydney Wacker’s first bucket of the game 18 seconds after that was also Cabot’s last bucket of the game. North Little Rock was forced to try to extend the game by fouling, and Cabot was rock solid from the line in the fourth quarter.

The Lady Panthers hit 11 of 12 free-throw attempts in the final frame to keep any potential comeback at bay.

North Little Rock’s Xena King led all scorers with 20 points. Mayes led all players with 11 rebounds. North Little Rock dominated the boards, winning the rebounding margin 33-16, but the 22 turnovers and poor shooting, 13 of 43 from the floor, counteracted the rebounding effort.

Wolff led Cabot with 18 points. She also had eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Boyett finished with 12 points, five steals and five assists. Bridges had 12 points and six assists and forward Elliot Taylor also finished with 12 points.

The Cabot boys suffered their worst loss of the season on Friday, losing 51-29 at home to North Little Rock. The same issue that has plagued Cabot all season, shooting, was haunting it again on Friday.

The Panthers (12-7, 3-7) made just 25 percent of its shots with 11 of 44 shooting from the floor. The shooting woes started early as Cabot went 2 of 11 in the first quarter and fell behind 14-4.

The Panthers never hit double figures in any given quarter. They scored seven in the second quarter and trailed 24-11 at halftime. They managed nine in each of the final two periods.

The scoring for Cabot was balanced as eight difference Panthers got on the board. Adam Rock led the way with six points.

Dashaun Watkins led North Little Rock (17-5, 8-2) with 17 points.

Russellville leads the league at 9-1, but will play in the class 6A state tournament. The Wildcats are second. Conway and Bryant are tied for third at 5-5. Catholic is 4-6 while Catholic, Van Buren and Central are all 3-7 in league play.

Cabot played at LR Central on Tuesday and will be back home against Bryant on Friday.