Girls Basketball Semifinals Previews

McEachern's girls are looking for a repeat in Class 7A.

Here are previews for each classification for the girls basketball semifinals, to be played on Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3.

Class AAAAAAA – Saturday, Buford City Arena

In the quarterfinals, McEachern scored another postseason win over Norcross, the team it defeated last season to win the state title. In McEachern’s overtime road victory over Norcross on Wednesday night, the Lady Indians, who have lost three star players due to injury, had to come back from a deficit as large as 15 points. Senior guard Jewell Smalls scored a game-high 18 points, hitting two three-pointers with less than a minute to go in regulation and getting a key steal and basket late in OT. Newton was also a Wednesday-night winner, edging Cherokee 70-68 at home as senior guard Jurnee Smith scored 18 points, 13 in the fourth quarter.

On the other side of the bracket, Westlake came into the playoffs as the No. 1 squad and now boasts a 28-1 record. The Lady Lions have not lost to a Georgia team this season and have rolled through the playoffs with margins of victory of 25, 23 and 25 points. Swing player Taylor Hosendove, a Texas Tech signee, is joined by senior point guard Anastasia Warren and freshman guard Raven Johnson in Westlake’s formidable rotation. Westlake’s opponent, North Forsyth, made its first-ever semifinals in girls hoops with a 68-63 home win over Hillgrove. Catherine Shope poured in 31 points and teammate Caroline Martin added 21 as the perimeter-oriented Lady Raiders held off a Hillgrove rally.

Class AAAAAA – Saturday, University of West Georgia

Lovejoy, the state’s No. 1 team heading into the postseason, survived a wild road quarterfinals game at No. 2 Winder-Barrow on Tuesday in one of the best games of this year’s playoffs. The Lady Wildcats won 68-67 in overtime and were carried by star sophomores Genesis Bryant (33 pts, 6 stls, 3 asts) and Anaya Boyd (20 pts, 7 rebs, 4 stls). Bryant scored 24 points in the second half and overtime, as Lovejoy overcame a five-point deficit early in the extra period. The Lady Wildcats’ opponent, Northview, will be thinking upset after its 61-57 quarterfinals win over Coffee, in which star junior post player Ashlee Austin scored 24 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

On the right side of the bracket, Douglas County has stormed through the playoffs with wins over River Ridge (78-61), Pope (85-45) and Valdosta (86-63). Junior Amari Robinson has been the catalyst for the Lady Tigers all year, averaging over 20 points per game and being named Region 5 Player of the Year. She has been especially great in their postseason run, pouring in 29 points to lead Douglas County in the quarterfinals win. Douglas County’s opponent Harrison defeated Bradwell Institute 66-37 on Thursday night to put the Lady Hoyas into the semifinals. Harrison came out on fire and led 55-17 over Bradwell at one point in the third quarter, getting a game-high 18 points from Sarah Woghiren.

Class AAAAA – Saturday, Fort Valley State University

This is Buford’s ninth final-four appearance in the past 10 seasons, and the Lady Wolves have won seven of their last eight semifinal showdowns. Buford is in the midst of another dominant postseason run and has defeated its opponents by an average of 33 points per game. Villa Rica sits at 27-1, and its only loss came to a Carrollton team that it twice beat. The Lady Wildcats had not advanced past the first round of the state playoffs since the 2013 season before this current run. In their 61-44 win over Fayette County in the quarterfinals, Deasia Merrill finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds, Kyndal Coleman chipped in 13 points and nine rebounds and Jaila Orozco added 17 points and eight rebounds.

Flowery Branch vs. Harris County is an outstanding showdown between two of Class 5A’s biggest stars. Flowery Branch’s Taniya Worth is an Alabama commit and is coming off one of the best games of her career. Worth scored 20 of her team’s 28 points in the first half and finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds. Harris County’s 6-foot-5 scoring machine Jessika Carter was phenomenal in her team’s 45-43 win over Carrollton in the quarterfinals, finishing with a game-high 23 points and scoring 14 of the team’s final 19 points.

Class AAAA – Friday, Fort Valley State University

The semifinal matchup between Americus-Sumter and Henry County will feature a bevy of big-time scorers. For Henry County, Brooke Moore and Janiya Jones offer a strong one-two punch on the offensive end. Moore led the Lady Warhawks in the quarterfinals with her 22 points, and Jones netted a game-high 24 points in their 82-61 win over Upson-Lee in the second round. Americus-Sumter’s offense starts with shooting guard Jykiera Long and continues deep down the roster. Long scored a playoff-high 19 points in the Lady Panthers’ 42-37 win over Marist, but teammates Deasia Ford, Shidajah Johnson, Brianna Pope and Nyja Carson have also notched double-figures at least once this postseason. Pope is a 6-foot sophomore forward who, with the freshman Carson, has brought an underclassmen spark to the 2016 state champs.

A buzzer-beater by Kiana Banks lifted Spalding past Madison County 55-53 in the quarterfinals, but now Banks and Region 2-AAAA Player of the Year Tykira Gilbert will be tested against the top-ranked team in the classification, Carver-Columbus. North Oconee was not able to keep up with the Lady Tigers in the quarterfinals as Carver coasted to a 68-26 victory. Carver defeated Cross Creek 60-56 in last year’s semifinals before falling in a 68-67 heartbreaker to rival Columbus in their first-ever trip to the finals.

Class AAA – Saturday, Georgia Southern University-Armstrong Campus

Greater Atlanta Christian is coming off a quarterfinal victory over Beach and, for the Lady Spartans, the momentum is important after they fell to Beach in the semis last year. GAC is led by Taylor Sutton (16.8 pts per game), Caria Reynolds (12.2 pts) and MaryMartha Turner (10.2 pts). Teammate Kennedi Williams is averaging just shy of nine points per game. Franklin County looks to protect its perfect 30-0 record in uncharted waters. Last season, the Lady Lions fell 53-52 to Ringgold in the first round. Savannah State commit Mya Jones leads her team with 21.5 points per game. Her twin sister, Asia, averages 11 points per game. Freshman Maddie Morehead has two games with five three-pointers on the season.

Johnson-Savannah enters the semifinals for the third-consecutive year led by Sy-Marieona Williams, the Region 3-AAA Player of the Year. Williams averages 18.1 points per game. J’Mya Cutter helps with 13 points, five steals and five assists per game. Teammate Jasmine Thompson averages 11 points, eight rebounds and three steals per game. Johnson is anchored down low by 6-foot-5 center Giana Copeland, who averages eight rebounds and 12 blocks per game. Tattnall County is led by Kashay Hankerson (17 pts, 4 rebs, 4 stls, 3 asts per game), Kayla Garrett (11 pts, 10 rebs) and Hallia Carl (8 pts, 6 rebs, 3 stls, 3 asts).

Class AA – Saturday, Georgia College & State University

The last time Laney lost was to North Augusta (S.C.) in the Lady Spartan Tip-off Classic on Nov. 22, 2016. The Lady Wildcats are riding a 60-game winning streak and are 30-0, entering this year’s semifinal game against Model. Laney is led by senior De’Sha Benjamin, who is averaging 22.2 points per game. Senior Jhessyka Williams averages just shy of 17 points per game, and teammate Jaiden Hamilton has been good for 15.9 points per game. The Lady Wildcats offense averages 78.1 points per game. On the other side, Model’s Libby Upton, a 5-foot-5 junior guard, and Victaria Saxton, a 6-0 senior center, combined for 51 points in the victory over Dodge. Upton had 27 points, but Saxton had a triple-double with 24 points, 29 rebounds and 10 blocks.

Josey has powered through the bracket nearly unchallenged, defeating Bleckley County (63-31), Metter (75-43) and Douglass (57-39). Against Douglass, Tykedra Rolland led with 18 points, and her twin sister, Rhykeria, added 16 points. The Lady Eagles have dropped four games this year, including to defending champion Laney. Josey is in the hunt for its second-ever girls basketball championship (1998). Its opponent, Fitzgerald, has weathered tightly contested games following a first-round victory over Bryan County 73-52. Fitzgerald took a 68-65 win over Washington County in the second round and a 70-65 win over Rabun County in the quarterfinals.

Class A-Public – Saturday, Valdosta State University

After losing 60-42 to Pelham in last season’s championship game, Telfair County has bounced back for another shot at the title. Leading the team in points per game is junior India Wells with 20.9. Her season high of 31 points this season came against Atkinson County. Senior shooting guard Ny’Asia Howard is a playmaker as well, scoring an average of 15.6 points a game. Greenville’s girls managed to go undefeated in their region this season, positioning them for a strong outing in the postseason. Much of the team’s success is credited to senior guard Brittany Davis. The Mississippi State signee averages 31.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, making her an all-out weapon who can score from anywhere.

During Telfair County’s 2015-16 campaign, a 55-38 loss to Turner County kept the Lady Greenwave from claiming the title, but this year’s 25-4 season shows that Terrell County has the potential to go all the way. While the defensive play has been great, the Terrell County offense can also put up points. Seniors Ticobia Whitting and Jamiya McDaniel can be expected to make tough plays and perimeter shots. Marion County finished out the regular season with solid wins over two tough opponents, Greenville and Macon County. The Lady Eagles defeated Pelham, last year’s champion, 65-56 to advance to the semifinals, further showing they can beat the state’s top teams.

Class A-Private – Friday, Columbus State University

After a 57-45 loss to Buford in Week 3, the Lady Golden Bears have yet to lose. Kennedy Suttle and Kaila Hubbard of Holy Innocents’ are the team’s only returning starters from last year’s runner-up squad and drive the offense, combining for 31 points in their quarterfinals game against Christian Heritage. Holy Innocents’ had no trouble finding new stars, like 6-foot-3 freshman Jillian Hollingshead. Stratford Academy is all too familiar with playing against Holy Innocents’ in the postseason, losing to them 78-39 in last year’s quarterfinals. Senior Carey Woodcock and sophomore shooting guard Mary Elaine Mitchell have had success throughout the playoffs and will look to keep it going.

St. Francis, the 2015 champion, is trying to get back to the finals. The team’s top scorer senior wing/forward Arynn Eady, averages 13.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Right behind her is junior strong forward Jordan Isaacs, whose 13 points per game make this duo a constant scoring threat. The Wesleyan Lady Wolves are looking to repeat last year’s championship run. Senior point guard Amaya Register is a playmaker and isn’t afraid to go hard to the basket. Her 15 points during this week’s matchup against Calvary Day in a big win, paired with senior power forward Sutton West’s 14 points, helped power the team to the semifinals.

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