The Handley Lady Tigers were playing a share-the-basketball type of game Monday in their subregional matchup at Jacksonville. The ball movement was crisp, the assists were plentiful and the offense was in rhythm.
Mix in another smothering defensive effort and it resulted in a 57-40 Handley victory that puts them one win away from a return trip to the regional finals.
Handley’s unselfish play Monday saw multiple players pass up open shots in an effort to set up a teammate for an even better shot, which prompted one fan to comment that maybe Handley was being too unselfish.
For head coach Courtney Screws there’s no such thing as “too unselfish” when it comes to her team.
“You can tell the relationship of your teammates or of a team just by looking at your bench,” Screws said. “I have to keep my bench players from running out on the court after a big play, and you don’t get that everywhere. And that has nothing to do with me. That has to do with the type of kids that I get to coach every day. They care about their teammates, and they want their teammates to succeed. When their teammates succeed, they succeed. That’s what makes it fun.”
As a team Handley had 15 assists on its 22 made field goal attempts, and three players finished in double figures scoring-wise.
Grace Rittenhouse rebounded from a frustrating night in the area championship loss to Anniston Friday to lead the Lady Tigers with 16 points. Teanna Watts added 14 points, and Ari Kyles had 10 points, 7 rebounds and five assists.
Handley opened the game on a slow burning 15-5 run and basically never looked back. Jacksonville cut the lead to 18-12 in the opening minutes of the second quarter, but they never got any closer than that. Handley held a 33-17 advantage at halftime and led by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter.
It was a crisp and fluid performance for the Lady Tigers, who played under control and with the kind of poise you would expect from a team led by three experienced seniors.
Kyles, Rittenhouse and Jamiyah Heard set the tone all night and made sure that any notion of a Jacksonville comeback was snuffed out.
“Ari, Jamiyah and Grace have bought in,” Screws said. “And by them buying in it’s caused my younger girls to buy in. It’s easy for an underclassman to sit around and joke at practice or joke during film study, but if you look at my seniors’ faces you know
how you’re supposed to act and how you’re supposed to behave.”
The experience on this team is not limited to the seniors however, as juniors Emelia Askew and Watts complete a starting unit that has been essentially the same for the past two seasons. That kind of experience comes in handy in the pressure cooker of playoff basketball.
“Who in the state is more experienced than this group? I have every single kid back from last year,” Screws said. “You can’t tell me that we’re young because we’re not. It would be a crying shame if we didn’t take advantage of that experience and advance.”
Handley will be looking to reignite that formula later this week as they move on to the regional semifinal, the state’s version of the sweet 16.
The game will be at home either Thursday or Friday against an as yet undetermined opponent. Handley will host the winner of Wednesday’s game between New Hope and St. John Paul II Catholic. That game was scheduled to be played Monday night as well but was postponed due to the icy weather conditions in the northern end of the state.
If Handley wins that game they will reach the regional final for the second straight season. Last year they lost in the regional final to Childersburg. This year’s regional final will be played at Jacksonville State University on Monday morning.
Anniston 45, Handley 37
Anniston survived a physical, defense-dominated ball game to outlast Handley 45-37 for the area 9 championship Friday in Anniston.
The two teams went toe-to-toe for much of the game, with Handley taking a 14-13 lead about halfway through the second quarter. But Anniston took control after that, never allowing Handley to establish an offensive rhythm. The Bulldogs scored the game’s next 11 points before Handley made one last push in the second half.
The Lady Tigers put together a quick 5-0 run to cut the lead to six points in the third quarter, but they never got any closer after that.
Teanna Watts and Grace Rittenhouse finished with 10 points apiece, but they were outdone by the Anniston duo of guard Allasha Dudley (18 points) and forward Asia Barclay (14 points).