Girls basketball: Kell coach benches starters, sparks rally

By David Purdum / For the AJC

Kell coach Craig Hines took the blame for his team’s sluggish start. So we’ll also give him the credit for knowing what buttons to push to get his girls to rally for a critical region victory over first-place Osborne.

The fifth-ranked Longhorns fell behind 15-2, but turned up pressure and blew out the seventh-ranked Cardinals, 55-32, Friday night at Kell.

China Henderson led three Kell starters in double figures with 16, and sophomore center Caliya Robinson dominated the paint with block after block. But Hines said credited his second unit with keeping the Longhorns in position to come back.

Hines benched his starters five minutes into the game and stuck with his reserves into the second quarter.

“They only gave up two points. It could have gotten out of hand, but they kept us in the game,” said Hines.

The reserve unit also allowed Hines time to get his point across to the starters.

“I don’t know why we started so slow and weren’t ready to play for a big game like this,” said Hines. “That comes back to me. But we were able to turn it up when the starters went back in.”

The Kell starters were re-inserted into the game early at the seven-minute mark of the second quarter. They unleashed a full-court press that Osborne couldn’t handle. The Longhorns closed the first half with 16-2 run, capped by Naomi Stuger’s three-point play that gave Kell its first lead at 23-21.

Zutorya Cook led Osborne with 16 points, but was the only Cardinal in double figures.

“After they came back, we just got frustrated and down,” said Osborne coach Melanie Samuel.

Robinson, a 6-3 sophomore, looks like a budding superstar for Kell. Official stats weren’t immediately available, but coaches and officials estimated that she had as many as 14 blocks to go along with 13 points. Robinson’s basket off a lob on an inbounds play extended the Longhorns’ lead to nine at the start of the fourth quarter.

Kell put the game away with a 13-2 run in the fourth, avenging an earlier 10-point loss at Osborne.

The two teams are now tied for first place in Region 7-AAAAA.

Kell: China Henderson 16, Stuger 14, Caliya Robinson 13, Santavia Grant 6, Onyx Henderson 4, Erin McKinney 2. Osborne: Zutorya Cook 16, Nikira Goings 8, Alexis Singletary 6, Jazzmon Rouse 2.

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