Defense lifts girls to win in Spa opener
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
HOT SPRINGS — The Bryant Lady Hornets held the Hot Springs Lady Trojans without a field goal for the final 9:05 and rallied for a 29-23 win in the first round of the Summit Bank Spa City Classic at Summit Arena on Thursday, Dec. 28. The win snapped the Lady Hornets’ three-game losing streak heading into the Christmas break.
Junior Brittany Mills hit a clutch 3-pointer with 1:40 to play to give Bryant a 25-23 lead then made a steal that led to a pair of free throws by senior Brittany Grant that helped seal the win. Mills added a pair from the line with :17.3 to go to complete the scoring.
“I was praying to God they’d go in because I was shaking, I was really nervous,” Grant said of her pressure-packed trip to the line. “But we shot 80 percent from the free-throw line in practice all week so I was kind of confidant about it.”
Grant, playing point guard, had a game-high seven rebounds to go with her 2 points and played a key role in keeping the Lady Hornets’ turnovers (11) down.
“Brittany’s like a sparkplug,” commented Bryant head coach Blake Condley. “The two-week break we’ve had over Christmas, she’s come into practice every day, practicing hard, really getting after it, doing a lot of those little things, being real aggressive and doing the things we need her to do.
“We really focused on scrimmaging on their plays since we’d played them before,” Grant mentioned, regarding practices leading up to the game. “We focused hard on shooting free throws, passing the ball and fake passing.”
“I talked to (Grant) about playing the one (point) so we could move Brittany Mills to the two to try to get Brittany Mills a few more shots,” Condley said, “and I thought Brittany Grant responded really well. She played great.
“I just go after it, I’m a scrapper,” Grant said. “I’m not going to stop until I get it.”
Mills and Jasmine Carter led the Lady Hornets with 8 points each. Anna Simpson added 6.
“I really felt like that this was a great team win for us today,” Condley emphasized. “We had a lot of girls play well and, not doing flashy stuff, but doing little things that we needed. When we talked about the scouting report, how we wanted to guard certain girls, I look out there and I see them guarding them exactly how we talked about. I see some girls growing up a little bit. I see them starting to understand what it takes.
“The defense played well and we took care of the ball when it came pressure time,” he added. “We made good passes, we hit shots, we made free throws — all the little things you have to do in the fourth quarter to win a basketball game.”
Hot Springs, playing its usual deliberate style on offense, took a 23-22 lead on two free throws by Ashley McDonald with 3:52 left in the game. Both teams had chances to change that score but it wasn’t until Mills’ 3 that it happened. After Grant’s free throws, Mills her trip to the line by absorbing a charge with :17.3 showing.
The Lady Trojans managed just three field goals in the first half by trailed just 9-7. The Lady Hornets fared little better in the first quarter when Sydney Simpson took advantage of a steal by Carter with just over a minute left, hitting a shot from the corner to tie the game at 3.
When it was 5-5, Lindsey Cason fed Amber Westbrook for a basket to give Bryant the lead. After a missed opportunity at the line by Hot Springs’ Olivia Green, Anna Simpson scored inside off another nice feed from Cason to make it 9-5. Green’s running jumper set the halftime score.
Both teams got it going better offensively in the third quarter. The game was tied at 9, 13 and 15. Hot Springs took a 17-15 lead on a basket by McDonald with 2:34 left in the period but Carter put Bryant ahead with a three-point play. And, after a Hot Springs miss, Carter hit a jumper in the lane to make it 20-17.
But a 3-pointer and a free throw in the final minute gave the Lady Trojans a 21-20 edge going into the fourth quarter. And, over the first four minutes of the final period, the only basket was another inside hoop by Anna Simpson that had the Lady Hornets back on top by a point. So, when McDonald hit two free throws with 3:52 left, Hot Springs had the edge.