“Oak Ridge is really good at what they do,” said Lady Hilltoppers’ head coach Scottie Whaley. “It is the best team we’ve played defensively. And they don’t panic. Paige Redman is a good coach who has that program back to where they were.”
Science Hill (31-2) will face off against the Lady Wildcats (33-2) in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA girls state basketball tournament Thursday at 12:30 p.m. (EST) at Murphy Center in Murfreesboro.
Science Hill has won 14 straight overall and 26 in a row against in-state competition.
The tournament semifinals are set for Friday afternoon with the championship slated for Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
IT STARTS WITH JADA
Oak Ridge’s top threat is 5-8 senior guard Jada Guinn, who has signed to play collegiately at Tennessee Tech.
“She is one of the top three players in the state,” said Whaley, noting her inclusion as a Class AAA Miss Basketball finalist. “We have to limit her. She is silky smooth, and she can drive it or post up. She’s a tough cover.”
Adding to the mix is 5-5 junior guard Bri Dunbar, who Whaley said hurt his team in a 54-51 loss to Oak Ridge last season in a game at Cleveland. Another factor is 5-7 sophomore Khamari Mitchell-Steen, who had 15 points in the 59-42 sectional win over Dobyns-Bennett.
FACING THE DEFENSE
Whaley said his team will have to be prepared for a defense that can make things happen.
“They are more athletic than Maryville,” said Whaley, whose team edged the Rebels 55-52 in Saturday’s sectional. “And they have more length. Us and Oak Ridge are very similar. We can’t turn the ball over against their pressure.”
Oak Ridge likes to employ the diamond press and then fall back into man. Whaley said his team won’t do anything different from its normal offensive routine against the Wildcats’ pressure.
“We’re not going to change what we do,” said Whaley. “When I was with Coach (Darrell) Barnwell and we went to the state tournament three years in a row, we never deviated from what we did. We always believed in putting the kids in a system that is beneficial to them and letting them go make plays.”
Science Hill probably won’t find getting the ball to standout post Alasia Smith as easy as it was against Maryville, which played behind Smith and basically let her have the ball on the block. She responded with 27 points and saddled Maryville with foul trouble.
“Oak Ridge won’t play behind her,” said Whaley. “We’re working on a couple of things to offset that.”
OTHER SH THREATS
Jeila Greenlee was a highly regarded player when she came into the Science Hill program as a freshman. And toward the end of her sophomore season she is growing into the expectations, becoming a similar playmaker at the guard position as Smith is in the post.
Symantha Fugate, an inside-outside threat, and Erin Egerbecht, a trey maker, join with point guard Yana Hill to give Science Hill a state-level starting five.
Whaley can also turn to Nae Marion, Jasmine Myers, Maddie Richmond and Lily Cullop off the bench.
SHOOTING AT MURPHY CENTER
Sometimes it is a problem for teams in their first game in the spacious arena.
“It’s different,” said Whaley. “We talked to them about it. We can’t go down there wide-eyed. Hopefully we won’t be intimidated. The first time you walk out of the tunnel, it hits you. But everybody I’ve talked to said make sure you enjoy it.”
Science Hill was able to get a couple of practice shooting sessions at Freedom Hall this week in preparation for Murphy Center.