Briarcrest uses second-half run to bury Lady Wave
By D.E. Wheeler
MYRTLE - One of Briarcrest Christian School's goals for this season is to work its way into the Top 10 in the nation.
Any opportunity for an impressive win against another nationally ranked opponent brings out the best in this Memphis school. Tough luck for the Tupelo Lady Wave.
In a battle of Top 25 teams in USA Today's national girls poll Saturday, No. 14 Briarcrest made its case for the Top 10 with a near perfect second-half effort in a 92-59 victory against No. 22 Tupelo in the Robertson's Sportswear Lady Challenge at Myrtle High School.
"We had a defensive game plan for them, to play them a straight up man in the first half, and play them a box-in-one in the second half," said Briarcrest coach Hugh Freeze, whose second-half defense was meant to inhibit the play of Tupelo star guard Tan White. "We did it that way to not let them have time to relax.
"And I thought we were in better shape because our shots, as the game went on, got easier instead of harder."
While the Briarcrest (28-1) margin of victory might look one-sided, the game was very competitive in the first half.
Briarcrest showed signs of breaking the game open in the first quarter as 5-foot-11 senior Ashley Earley scored nine of her game-high 43 points during an 11-0 run that pushed the Memphis team's lead to 17-3. But the Lady Wave (21-2) responded with an effective full-court defense.
Defense led to offense as White and point guard Shera Edwards scored baskets in a 12-0 Tupelo run that cut the margin to 23-17 by the end of the period. Tupelo kept the momentum, and with 3 minutes, 3 seconds to play in the half, a Kenyatta Pratt 3-pointer tied the score at 32-32.
But in the next two minutes, both White and Edwards picked up their third fouls. White went to the bench in the last two minutes of the half with Tupelo trailing 36-35, and the game was never competitive after that.
"I thought we adjusted well to their defense in the first half, but never in the second half," Tupelo coach Nanci Gray said. "When the game was going well for us, we were doing a good job with our press offense, creating things on the backside of their press.
"But when you talk at halftime and tell your players that they have three fouls, it affects their defense mentally. And Briarcrest has such incredible 3-point shooters, everyone on the team."
Briarcrest started exploiting the Tupelo perimeter zone defenders in the third quarter. With key 3-pointers from Allison Gordon and Laura Mitchell, Briarcrest took its 44-37 halftime lead and bumped it up to 67-46.
Plus, the Briarcrest defensive change limited White to only one point in the third quarter.
"I can't say enough about our seniors, Ashley Earley and Laura Mitchell," Freeze said. "After Tupelo made its run, they settled us down."
After Earley's 43 points, 6-1 Jada Mincy added 13 and Gordon 11 for Briarcrest while White scored 17 and Tiffany Garth 13 for the Lady Wave.
"We talked early on about how Briarcrest was very much like Murrah with the inside game they have," said White, whose Lady Wave have lost the Class 5A championship game the previous two seasons to the Jackson school. "We've just got to go back home and start working."
"We had talked about us being ranked No. 14 and them No. 22, and that a loss knocks us out of the Top 15," Freeze said. "An impressive win puts us in the Top 10.
"This is not our ultimate goal, but it is one of our goals."
Tupelo had beaten Briarcrest on a last-second shot in this same tournament last season.