By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Wesleyan finally received a test from a team within the boarders of Georgia and in its classification Friday night. While the Wolves, ranked No. 1 in Class A, didn’t exactly pass with flying colors, they passed – rather impressively – nonetheless.
On the strength of a third-quarter explosion by senior forward Holli Wilkins, Wesleyan finally dispatched of No. 2 St. Francis, 67-54, in a battle for first place in Division B of the subdivided Region 5.
The Wolves had bounced the Knights by an average margin of 23 points in the last three meetings between the two. Friday night, St. Francis made the three-time state champs work for everything.
Wesleyan led by five, 26-21, at halftime after playing most of the second quarter without Wilkins and junior point guard Brittany Stevens, who both picked up two fouls each. With Wilkins on the bench, junior forward Katie Frerking took the offense on her shoulders with nine points in the first half.
“Katie really stepped up on the offensive end when we needed her,” said Wesleyan head coach Jan Azar. “We’ve been waiting for her to do that all season and she did it tonight.”
The Knights quickly closed the gap to 29-27 early in the third quarter following a put back by forward Nettie Brown, after she and forward Keyona Hayes grabbed four offensive rebounds. Hayes finished with 17 points while Brown added 10.
But that’s when Wilkins took over.
The senior, who is the daughter of NBA veteran Gerald Wilkins and the niece Atlanta Hawks’ great Dominique Wilkins, helped ignite a 7-0 run that pushed the Wolves’ lead to 36-27. Stevens closed the spurt with a three-pointer from the corner.
St. Francis was able to keep the game close with its full-court pressure, which at times caused problems for the Wesleyan.
“Usually we like for teams to press us because we like to score in transition,” Azar said. “We’re able to break the press pretty easily on most teams. Tonight we just stopped moving. So we made the adjustment and were able to recover.”
Then Wesleyan applied some full court pressure of its own that forced St. Francis into three consecutive turnovers. The result was an 11-0 run late in the third period that upped the Wolves’ lead to 49-33 after a short jumper by Wilkins. The Furman signee scored 11 points in the period and finished with a game-high 20 points.
“That’s as well as she has played against us,” said St. Francis head coach Aisha Gaddis. “She played extremely well.”
St. Francis couldn’t get any closer than eight points the rest of the way and the Wolves were a perfect six-of-six from the free throw line in the closing minutes to seal the deal. The teams will meet again, Feb. 7, at St. Francis.
“We closed the gap on them. I’m proud of the way we played,” said St. Francis head coach Aisha Gaddis. “But we didn’t finish. We’ll get them at our place and February and hopefully keep closing the gap.”