02/29/12 — Lakewood presents challenge

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Lakewood presents challenge

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 29, 2012 1:48 PM

FAYETTEVILLE -- Defense wins championships.

It's an adage used by every coach in every sport on every level of athletics and Goldsboro High head girls' basketball coach LaTina Bullock is no different. She preaches the mantra each day in practice.

She hopes the girls continue to listen ... even more so this week.

The No. 6-ranked Cougars face their toughest challenge of the season against No. 5-ranked Lakewood in semifinal-round play of the 2012 N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A eastern regional Thursday evening. Tip-off is 8:30 p.m. at the Crown Coliseum.

"They're an aggressive team, they press and they do have some good guards," said Bullock of the Leopards. "I really honestly believe it's going to be a good game. I'm sure the coach from Lakewood is encouraging his players to fight to the end and I'm doing the same with mine.

"It's a great opportunity to be back where we were last year and possibly keep moving forward, which is our goal."

Goldsboro (24-2 overall) is making its second consecutive regional appearance and 11th overall in program history. The Cougars last won a regional championship in 1982 when they competed in the old Mideastern 4-A Conference.

Lakewood advanced to the regional for the first time since 1994 when alum Chastity Melvin led it to the 1-A state title that season. Melvin played for the late Kay Yow at N.C. State and the Washington Mystics of the WNBA.

The Leopards (27-1) haven't lost since a season-opening setback against county rival Clinton. They swept the Tri-County regular-season and tournament titles, and nipped league nemesis James Kenan, 47-46, to punch their ticket to Fayetteville.

"We get up and down the floor as much as possible ... try to run it and our press pretty much allows us to do that," said Leopards head coach Lofton Kerr. "We can play both styles (up-tempo and halfcourt) because we a team in our conference that we have to grind it out. I think we're diverse. We're not that big.

"(The success) boils down to the players."

Five-foot-5 junior point guard Sasha Martin leads three Lakewood players in double figures with 15 points. Junior guard Brittany Boykin chips in 13 points an outing, while 5-11 junior power forward Tiesha Rich contributes a double-double -- 12 points, 10 rebounds.

The Leopards have tallied 60 or more points in 18 games this season and matched their season high of 81 on four occasions.

Goldsboro allows 33.5 points a game and has recorded double digits in steals during its last two playoff outings. The Cougars have scored 60-plus points in their last three games and average 55 per contest.

"They've been here before, so they're one-up on us already," chucked Kerr of the Cougars. "I saw them over the summer. They play hard and are aggressive, have some good players and the big girl (Kasheika Wallace) in the middle is going to be a test for us. She handles things down low pretty good.

"We've been fortunate and jumped on a lot of teams (early) to get big leads. James Kenan and Clinton have given us tests. We're doing something right, at least I hope so."