02/25/05 — Lady Cougars advance into sectional title game

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Lady Cougars advance into sectional title game

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 25, 2005 2:11 PM

Two tradition-rich women's basketball programs -- former rivals on the Class 4-A level -- met on the hardwood for the second time in last three years Thursday evening. And just like those hard-played contests in the early 1980s, every possession counted until the final horn sounded.

A sluggish Goldsboro squad fended off two second-half rallies and upended Wilson Fike 44-32 in their N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A Sectional No. 3 semifinal contest. The Cougars (25-3) earned their fourth consecutive trip to the sectional championship game and will entertain Nash Central at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Fike concluded the year 12-15.

Although the door remained closed to the Goldsboro locker room, a few raised voices could be heard. One captain expressed her discontent over the team's performance and received no debate from her teammates.

Several Cougars exited the locker room with disatisfied looks on their sweat-stained faces. They certainly didn't resemble a team that had won its eighth playoff game in 10 tries since 2002.

"I guess we were tired," said Goldsboro forward Jessica Faison. "We were really not hustling, not playing as a team and not talking on the floor. Once we got leads, we'd let them go.

"I don't know exactly what was wrong, but we couldn't come together (as a team) tonight."

Goldsboro gained a first-round bye by winning the Eastern Carolina Conference for the third consecutive year. Head coach Gladys McClary felt that not playing on Tuesday factored into the sluggish performance as well.

"I feel especially proud of these ladies for their performance in their first playoff game," McClary said. "When you're coming off a high, you want to keep on playing, but because of that first-round bye I was hoping they wouldn't get too rested before this game.

"But we've got some things we need to work on."

Fike exposed a few chinks in Goldsboro's armor in the opening quarter. The Golden Demons played patient on offense, passed the ball around the perimeter and waited to find a seam in the Cougar defense.

The methodical approach spawned Briana Virgils' back-door layup off Anna Clark's assist and Barksdale Thompson's 3-pointer. Fike forged ties at 2-2 and 5-5, and had the tempo in their favor.

Credit part of that to a sagging man-to-man defense that undoubtedly irritated McClary's team. At one point, the veteran coach burned a timeout and expressed her discontent at the team's movement off the ball -- which was nothing.

Junior point guard Chevoya Jackson created offense off her dribble with drives to the basket, but Goldsboro missed every field goal attempt in its halfcourt offense.

"They had people up on Ashelyn and Carmille (Early), and they were just banging it off the backboard ... no concentration, not using the glass and following through with their shots," Faison said. "We tried to take shots from the outside ... draw them out so we could get the ball in, but it wasn't working."

Ashelyn James showed her aggressiveness in the second quarter with a pair of layups on the low post. Jackson added 10 of her game-high 22 points during that stretch. Reserve Nickie Garner, the heroine of Saturday's win against Charles B. Aycock, dished out two key assists -- one each to Mikeda Graham and Jackson.

The offensive surge produced a 25-11 lead at halftime.

Fike refused to quit, however, and settled back into its deliberate offensive style.

Anna Clark's offensive putback capped a 9-0 run as the Golden Demons pulled within 25-20 late in the third quarter. Early's free throw and James' offensive putback, Goldsboro's lone field goal of the quarter, made the score 28-20.

"Standing around looking and watching is totally uncharacteristic of us," McClary said. "Any time we step outside our style of play, we don't know how to finish."

The Golden Demons twice climbed with six points in the final quarter. But they committed costly turnovers and Goldsboro converted 6 of 8 free throws to seal their 54th win overall -- in 60 games -- dating back to last season.

James recorded a double-double -- 13 points and 13 rebounds. Early and Faison combined for six points, all at the free throw line. Graham also added three points.

Clark had 14 for Fike.

"In spite of the win, I had to get on them a little bit after the game," McClary said. "I applauded them for the win, but reminded them of some things we have to execute in order to continue to play."