HOT SPRINGS — North Little Rock raced to a 19-8 first-quarter lead in Thursday's state 7A girls championship game.
"Really didn't affect us," said Conway coach Ashley Nance. "We've started slowly in many of our games."
The teams had met twice before in the regular season and North Little Rock had double-digit leads going into the fourth quarter. The Lady Cats caught the Lady Charging Wildcats one time and almost another in defeat.
Thursday, North Little Rock went into the fourth quarter with a 49-38 lead. This time, they expanded that to a 66-49 victory for the state title. The NLR boys made it a double by defeating Fort Smith Northside for the boys title.
"I was thinking the same thing (about the fourth-quarter leads)," laughed NLR coach Daryl Fimple afterwards.
The difference this time was the North Little Rock guards handled pressure and made plays and got Conway guards Myia Yelder and Ayisha Smith, the catalysts for the Lady Cats offense, into foul trouble. The Lady Cats needed both in the game to have a reasonably shot at a comeback.
"What concerns you is those guards can make shots (3-pointers) from God know where," Fimple said. "They shoot so far out, you have to rebound. This time we pushed back at them and made them play end line to end line."
The Lady Charging Wildcats made key shots from the perimeter and fed 6-3 post Yo'Maris Morris at the right times. They got downcourt for layups against a Conway defense, seemingly gassed from playing catchup the entire game.
A couple of omens indicated it wasn't Conway's day. With Conway trailing, 30-22, and getting a turnover in the final seconds of the first half, the Lady Cats' Cardrina Nolen watched a point-blank shot jump about the basket and rim out. Jadah Pickens had a layup after a steal rim out with the chance to cut a 49-38 NLR lead to single digits in the final seconds of the third qusrter Nolen scored a basket in the first seconds of the fourth quarter.
NLR's lead could have been seven.
It was three minutes later before the Lady Charging Wildcats kept their feet on the accelerator.
"Ww were just trying to frustrate them (the Conway guards) as much as possible," said senior guard Demyla Brown. "Help in, then get out. I think they got a little gassed and we turned up our offense. And all of our guards can hit the 3-point shot."
Bottom line: North Little Rock was too experienced, on too much of roll and had too much depth and talent. The Lady Charging Wildcats proved themselves as the best team. Conway, a team that lived from the outside and getting to the foul line all season had to play its best game and hit a bunch of 3-pointers (the Lady Cats were seven of 28) to win.
Runner-up was no shame. Not against a team so balanced and so powerful.
Sports editor David McCollum can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd