Southwest DeKalb coach Kathy Walton said her team had been working hard on free throws and layups, and the extra attention to those areas of the game paid off at Gwinnett Arena on Wednesday.
The Panthers got their transition game going in the second half and gradually pulled away from Jonesboro for a 51-35 victory in the Class AAAA girls basketball semifinals. It was the 19th consecutive state-tournament victory for Southwest DeKalb, which won state championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010 but failed to qualify for the tournament last season. Southwest DeKalb (21-11), the No. 3 seed from Region 6-AAAA, will play for the state title at 3 p.m. on Friday.
“This is where they wanted to be,” Walton said. “We had some bumps along the road, but we always talk about that it doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish.”
The Panthers led by just two points at halftime but took advantage of numerous second-half fast breaks that ended with easy baskets or free throws to take control of the game. Layups by Shayla Rivers and Davion Wingate gave Southwest DeKalb a 25-17 lead, its biggest of the game to that point, with 3:47 remaining in the third quarter, and the Panthers went 6-for-6 from the line in the next minute and a half to increase the lead to 12 points.
Southwest DeKalb got six more layups and made four free throws in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Jonesboro closed the deficit to six points on a short jumper by Kimberly Dawkins with six minutes remaining, but the Cardinals never got any closer.
For the game, Southwest DeKalb was 15-for-19 from the free-throw line, while Jonesboro was 6-for-16.
Neither team led by more than four points in the first half. Southwest DeKalb went ahead 13-9 on an inside basket by Deja Clay and 15-11 on two free throws by Jasmine Coleman but settled for a 15-13 lead at the break.
“We were supposed to do it in the first half, but I think they were just a little apprehensive,” Walton said of her team’s up-tempo game. “But once they got the first-half jitters out of the way, they realized that they could do a whole lot more.”
Jonesboro’s Dawkins led all scorers with 15 points. Nicole Martin and Coleman scored 12 points each and Rivers had 10 for Southwest DeKalb.
“You can never get used to [going to the finals],” Walton said. “It’s always great to be back. We consider this our home court.”