By Rob Patrick
If a Bryant Lady Hornets’ fan was prone to biting their nails, this season might have left them[more] with no nails still to bite.
Game after game has come down to the final minutes and, unfortunately, the Lady Hornets have come up on the heart-breaking end more times than not, at times against even some of the best teams in the state.
But among those they were able to come out on the winning end was a Dec. 8, 2012 contest against the West Memphis Lady Blue Devils at the Conway Invitational Tournament.
A new season, the post-season, commenced on Wednesday and, in the first game on Thursday, at 1 p.m., there will be a rematch between Bryant and West Memphis. The Lady Hornets come into the State tourney at Fayetteville High School’s new Bulldog Arena as the sixth seed from the West, after competing in the South, which includes all Class 6A teams. West Memphis, in the East league with some 6A teams too, rallied after their loss to Bryant and finished as a third seed from the Central.
“They’re very good,” said Lady Hornets coach Brad Matthews of the Lady Devils. “They’re in a tough conference over there with Cabot, North Little Rock, Mountain Home, Little Rock Central and they did really well in that conference. They’re really talented. They’ve got some big kids that can play, a really good post player. They’re a solid team. They don’t have a lot of weaknesses.
“Our kids are looking forward to the challenge,” he asserted. “We played them earlier and had some success. Hopefully, that’ll give us some confidence going into the game.
“It’s a new season, whether you’re the one seed or the eighth seed in 6A or the sixth seed in 7A,” the coach said. “And whatever happens this week is going to determine this week. It’s not about what you did last week or last month or early in the season. It’s about this week and it’s that way for every team still playing. Hopefully, we can take advantage of that and go up there on Thursday and play well.”
Bryant’s had a little more time to prepare after finishing off the regular season with one of those gut-wrenching setbacks at home against El Dorado on Tuesday, Feb. 19. West Memphis played on Friday, Feb. 22 when they went to Mountain Home and absorbed a loss.
“There are positives and negatives to both sides. I think it would’ve helped us a lot more if we had known who we were playing,” Matthews said, noting that the seeding from the Central wasn’t set until Friday’s results were all in. “Having said that, I’ve got five or six tapes on them and we played them. I think we’re prepared but I think it would’ve been a little bit more advantageous for us if we had known who we were playing. They had to go to Mountain Home on Friday and I’m sure they didn’t get back until late. But then they’re still playing, they’re on a very similar routine as what they have during the season. These are teenage kids. I don’t think it makes that big a difference.”
As far as his team’s preparations, the coach said they went back to basics a bit.
“We try to emphasize the little things that are going to win games,” he said. “You see, so many times at a State tournament, it’s something simple like a free-throw block out that’ll cost you; something simple like getting beat on an inbounds play. Those are the kinds of things we’ve been working on.
“In the course of a season, you’re trying to prepare for the next game all the time — it’s always the next game, the next opponent, trying to get your game plan ready for that — we wanted to have four or five practices here to catch our breath and make sure that we go back to the fundamentals,” he continued. “We worked on blocking out. We’ve worked on that all year but we emphasized it, really stressed it in our practices in the last week. Hopefully, going back and getting to re-emphasize what we worked on in September will pay dividends on Thursday.”
Rebounding figures to be a key for the Lady Hornets, who have been led on the boards by senior Courtney Davidson and junior Dezerea Duckworth. Logan Davis has been the team’s leading scorer of late with some consistent shooting from 3-point range. Centers Whitney Meyer, Erica Smith and Hayley Murphy, forward Kristen Scarlett and guards Peyton Weaver and Jayla Anderson have been part of the team’s primary rotation.
“We’ve been working our game plan, executing, making sure we know who we’re playing, know what they do well and try to limit that,” Matthews said. “They rebound the ball really well and they do such a good job on defense, forcing you to take tough shots with their length and athleticism. But, we’ve seen that before with some teams in our conference so, hopefully, that prepared us well.”