MURFREESBORO — With Bradley Central's twin towers becoming an only child, Science Hill's role of favorite increased.
The state's No. 2-ranked Lady Hilltoppers (33-3) will play the third-ranked Bearettes (29-2) in the quarterfinals of the girls Class AAA state basketball tournament at Murphy Center today at 2 p.m. (EST).
Bradley will be without the services of 6-foot-2 junior Rebecca Reuter — part of a powerful post duo along with 6-1 junior Brooke Copeland — as she was tagged with two technical fouls in a sectional contest Saturday and suspended for two games. Her appeal was denied Monday.
Science Hill is ranked No. 11 in the nation in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25. The Lady Hilltoppers are 31-3 with their only losses coming against nationally ranked teams: No. 2 Murfreesboro Riverdale, No. 5 Marion County, Ky., and No. 9 Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett.
Bradley Central enters with a record of 29-2. The Bearettes lost to Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook, which is ranked No. 23 in the nation in the USA Today Super 25, and Norcross (Ga.) Wesleyan — which won five straight 1A state championships, moved up 2A this season, and will play for another state title Friday.
Also in action at Murphy Center today will be mighty underdog Hampton. The short-handed Lady Bulldogs (27-9) will take on seven-time state champion Jackson County (30-3) at 6:30 p.m.
Class AA Elizabethton and Class A Cloudland will play Thursday.
All quarterfinal and semifinal games will be streamed live on the internet at www.playonsports.com. However, unlike previous years there will be a charge to view the contests.
Without Reuter, Science Hill will only have to deal with Copeland. She is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game. Reuter chips in with 11 points and 10 boards a contest. Both players average two blocks per game.
Hilltoppers' head coach Darrell Barnwell said the absence of Reuter won't affect Science Hill's approach.
“It won't change what we do,” said Barnwell. “It might change what they do, and as the game goes along I'm sure we will make some adjustments.”
Reuter and Copeland played a key role in Bradley's ability to deal with other team's fullcourt pressure. However, Barnwell said his team hasn't leaned heavily on the fullcourt press at this stage in the season.
“We've had a lot of success with halfcourt man to man,” said Barnwell. “We will use a variation of halfcourt and full. I've talked to some coaches and their guards handle it well.”
Those guards include Morristown West transfer Whitney Donaldson, a 5-4 junior who averages nine points and 4.5 assists per game. Another key player is senior wing Kayla Withrow, who had a career-high 26 points in the region quarterfinal with six 3-pointers.
Also, Withrow had 18 points in the sectional win over Blackman, hitting all five of her 3-point attempts.
Science Hill counters with junior point guard Tianna Tarter, a proven state-level performer who is averaging 14 points, five assists and 2.5 steals per game.
Another standout player is post Gabby Lyons, who averages 12 points and six rebounds per game. Post Enjelica Reid and guards Shy Copney and Morgan Knack each average right at 10 points per game.
Science Hill is making its third straight appearance in the state tournament. The Lady Hilltoppers made it to the semifinals in 2011 before losing to eventual champion Memphis Central.
Last year they were undefeated (38-0) before losing 70-55 to Riverdale in the championship game.
All that experience should help the Hilltoppers avoid the jitters.
“I don't know that I want us to be too relaxed,” said Barnwell. “These kids have been successful at the state because they've been hungry. The kids are familiar with the routine. Now it's a matter of executing well at the right time.”
The Hilltoppers have won 12 straight games since the 61-58 loss to Marion County. The Lady Toppers are 104-8 over the last three seasons.
Bradley has won 11 straight games since the 69-61 loss to Wesleyan. The Bearettes are 89-10 over the last three seasons.
Hampton vs. Jackson County — The Lady Bulldogs weren't supposed to be here after losing star guard Dorothy Dugger to a late-season knee injury.
Dugger was Northeast Tennessee's leading scorer with 20 points per game, and also led with 2.8 3-pointers a contest.
However, Hampton scrapped its way through the regional tournament before thumping Grace Christian in the sectional. Since Dugger's injury, the new-look Bulldogs have gotten 11 points and 10 rebounds per game from Danielle Guinn. Kim Swearingen has added nine points a contest while Alexis Bowers is averaging 10 points and six assists per game.
Competing with the Lady Blue Devils won't be an easy chore. Leading the way is 5-10 junior Jaycee Coe, who has already committed to the University of Kentucky. Coe had 32 points in the first half of Saturday's 87-50 sectional win over Silverdale Academy. She finished with 43 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots.
Brooklyn Apple, a 5-9 senior, added 15 points in that game while 6-4 senior post Makenzie Hensley added 12 points and four blocks.
Dugger was actually one of Hampton's taller players at 5-foot-7, so the state tournament record for blocks in a game may be in jeopardy.
The Lady Bulldogs are making their first state appearance since 2009. They defeated Cornersville that season, but lost to Madison Academic Magnet in the semifinals.