SPORTS >> Lady Jackrabbits’ victory worth the wait
By JASON KING
Lonoke’s unusual four-minute break to end the third quarter might have made for a low score, but it was the only stretch of calm in an otherwise frantic tournament championship game against Star City.
The Lady Jackrabbits did their best to pace themselves and barely escaped the Lady Bulldogs’ bullying press down the stretch to win the Beebe Christmas Classic final 31-28 on Wednesday night at Badger Sports Arena. The game was a repeat of last year’s tournament final won by Lonoke.
Junior guard Cara Neighbors declared her recovery from recent wrist surgery complete by leading the Lady Jackrabbits with 18 points, half of which came in the fourth quarter.
Asiah Scribner gave Lonoke a 30-28 lead when she made a free throw with 34 seconds left and Neighbors made the first of two free throws with 6 seconds left for the final margin, as Lonoke’s defense kept Star City from a last-ditch shot attempt.
“We had to fight; we definitely had to fight. It was tough,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said. “We had a one-point deficit at the half and I’m very proud of our kids — they were patient. It’s two nights in a row that they were patient against great athletes.
“Maybe not that great against the press late, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen that kind of pressure. We’ll be okay if it’s that way again. There’s nobody else in 4A that can press like that.”
Lonoke (10-5) put its patience on display for almost four minutes at the end of the third quarter when senior point guard Michaela Brown stood near mid court with the ball and let the seconds, then minutes, tick away.
Lonoke finally passed with a minute left, but Brown returned to her spot with 48 seconds to go and let the clock wind down to within 10 seconds before Lonoke attacked the basket. A steal by Lady Bulldog post Ja-Quayshia Linsy under the goal made the nearly four-minute possession fruitless.
Morris said there was a method to the madness.
“Scribner was on the bench, and we had the possession arrow,” Morris said. “We were going to get the ball to start the quarter.
So it was one last free possession. If they were going to let us run it all the way down, that’s what we were going to do.
“It gave those three guards that had been in there the whole game a little bit of catch-your-breath time. It let Scribner get some rest on the bench. We didn’t execute it like we wanted to, but it’s still our ball coming out to start the quarter.”
Star City (10-4) had an obvious vendetta against the only team to beat the Lady Bulldogs last season. Lonoke won the Christmas Classic final a year ago and beat Star City again in the 4A state semifinals in Pine Bluff.
The Lady Jackrabbits advanced to the Christmas Classic final this year with a first-round rout of Carlisle and a big victory over 7A power Conway in the semifinals.
“I guess it’s the same road we had last year in back-to-back years,” Morris said. “Carlisle coming right out of the break, a very good, very athletic Conway team and a great, athletic Star City team.”
Neighbors was the only double-digit scorer for either team thanks to the Lady Bulldogs’ emphasis on shutting down Scribner’s inside game. The effort paid off as the UALR signee scored just six points, though she contributed her critical free throw down the stretch.
Scribner made her only field goal with 5:14 left in the first quarter. She earned two trips to the free-throw line later in the period and went 3 of 4.
“She carried two or three people every time,” Morris said of Scribner. “Every time she came across, they knew where she was going, and they didn’t want her to beat them. We got one quick feed to her when they were in a zone on the back side. She got it; from then on, it was all free throws.”
Neighbors made the most of the opening fourth-quarter possession when she made a three-point basket to give Lonoke a 22-18 lead. She extended the lead with a steal and layup on Star City’s next trip and gave the Lady ’Rabbits their biggest lead with a basket and free throw to make it 29-22 with 2:36 left.
“She’s a scorer – that’s all there is to it,” Morris said. “The kid can flat score. It took a little bit to get going. The only problem we have is sometimes when others stand and watch.
“Even not all of hers go in, so we have to go grab glass and get offensive rebounds. We need more offensive rebounds. She’s a scoring machine when she catches fire.”
Lonoke will host Stuttgart in 2-4A Conference play Tuesday.