For a half, it looked as if Luella had closed the gap on Stephenson in Region 2-AAAAA.
Then Stephenson began pressing, and the truth of the region became more apparent: The Lady Jaguars are the class of the league.
Stephenson won 69-50 Friday night behind 17 points from sophomore Naima Jackson, who led four players in double figures. The Lady Jaguars (14-4, 8-0 Region 2-AAAAA) completed a regular-season sweep of Luella.
“The first half they hung with us,” said Jackson, whose three baskets sparked a 12-0 run to start the third period. “We just kept hustling and did what we needed to do.”
Kyana Johnson and Kaliyah Mitchell scored 13 each for Stephenson and Kerry Watson added 11.
The loss ended an 11-game winning streak for Luella (15-4, 6-2), which played without starting point guard Amber Griffin, the Henry County school’s all-time leader in assists. In her absence, leading scorer Britney Guy took over at the point, and Stephenson double-teamed her most of the night.
“Britney did the best she could. She just wore down,” said Luella coach Eddie Pratt. “At some point, someone else has to step up.”
The Lady Jaguars, who held Luella to single-digit scoring in all four quarters back on Dec. 6, scored the first seven points Friday night, but Luella clawed back into the game, twice pulling within a point in the second quarter. Guy’s bucket to open the second period cut the Stephenson lead to 21-20, and Brianna Moore’s basket moments later made it 23-22.
Stephenson stretched the lead to 30-22 with a 7-0 run and led 36-29 before a 5-0 Luella run trimmed the margin to two. Stephenson led 37-34 at intermission.
Stephenson pressed only sparingly in the first half, coach Dennis Watkins’ means of avoiding foul trouble, but unleashed the press in full force coming out of half time. The Lady Jaguars held Luella without a field goal in the third period, forcing repeated turnovers and getting layups out of them. Luella’s only point in the quarter came on a free throw by Laghanae Davis at the 3:59 mark, and Stephenson followed that with a 10-0 run to close the quarter with a 59-35 lead.
“We handled it the first half,” said Luella coach Eddie Pratt, “but the last time I checked, you’ve got to play four quarters.”
Guy’s basket with 5:30 to play was the Lady Lions’ first of the second half, and by that point the game was decided.
Guy, who was honored before the game as Luella’s all-time leading scorer, netted 18 Friday and Davis added 17.