Lady Cougars stand tall as NEA champs
The Lady Cougars brought home their second Northeast Arkansas Invitational Tournament championship Friday with a 52-45 victory over the Marked Tree Lady Indians in the finals of the Girls Division I bracket at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center.
The Lady Cougars, under the direction of coach Matt Dean, changed their defensive strategy for the athletic Marked Tree squad. Instead of pressing, as they did the last time the two teams met, Rector utilized more box-and-one, triangle-and-two schemes and other variations of the zone defense to curtail the athletic Marked Tree squad.
"Their guards were able to get by our press last time, so we made some adjustments defensively," Dean said. "As good as they are, you're not going to be able to shut them down completely. Our goal was to make it more difficult to drive and try to force them to shoot the ball."
The strategy worked well for the Lady Cougars. As a team, the Lady Indians struggled with their shots, particularly in the first half wherein they made just 10 of 38 attempts. Marked Tree's standout guards Jay Perry and Poohnu Perry made just five baskets total in the first two frames.
By contrast, Rector's tandem of sophomore Kendal Gunn and senior Jessica Scott were all but unstoppable on the afternoon. Gunn worked the Lady Indians over from mid-range back, burying numerous jumpers and extending beyond the arc to finish with a game-high 21 points. Jessica Scott did much of her damage at the free throw line, sinking all 12 of her attempts from the stripe.
Gunn started strong, notching nine points in the first frame, as Rector moved out to a 15-11 advantage.
Jessica Scott broke a two minute Lady Cougar drought at the start of the second quarter, attacking the hoop after a 7-0 Marked Tree run put the Lady Indians ahead 18-15. Two free throws and a pull-up jumper from Gunn and a pair of free throws and a layup by Jessica Scott allowed Rector to maintain a one point lead at intermission, 25-24.
The pace slowed in the third quarter. The teams traded baskets as Marked Tree drove inside for three buckets and Gunn continued her assault from the wing. Rector's Allison Harmon scored the Lady Cougars' second bucket of the third period after pulling down an offensive board. Jessica Scott put the momentum back in Rector's corner with six straight points, sandwiching a pair of free throws with two layups. The Lady Cougars went into the fourth quarter leading 35-32.
As fouls began to mount up for the Lady Indians, particularly on guards Poohnu and Jay Perry, Rector slowed the pace even more to force Marked Tree into fouling in the fourth quarter.
Rector made free throws down the stretch to hold off the Lady Indians. The Lady Cougars secured 11 of their 17 points in the final frame from the stripe.
Gunn paced Rector with a double-double, netting 21 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Jessica Scott scored 20 points in the victory. Also scoring for the Lady Cougars were Harmon 6 points and 13 rebounds, Kelsey Wynn 2, Heather Scott 2 and Kelly Fowler 1.
Marked Tree was led by 11 points from Jay Perry.
The Lady Cougars claimed their second NEA Tournament crown with the win. The team's first title came in 2008. Gunn, Harmon and Heather Scott were announced as All-NEA selections. Mitchell Weber was an All-NEA selection for the Rector boys.
The Lady Cougars improved to 17-3 overall and 4-3 in 2A-3 conference action.
The Lady Cougars advanced to the Division I finals of the NEA Invitational Tournament with a 61-57 win over Weiner Wednesday, Dec. 28 at the ASU Convocation Center.
Rector trailed by one, 48-47, going into the final frame and fell behind by as many four points in the fourth quarter. Gunn hit two big three-pointers with 3:32 and 3:10 remaining to push the Lady Cougars ahead for good. Heather Scott made four of four free throws in the final 32 seconds and Gunn added two more at the stripe with nine-tenths of a second to preserve the victory.
Gunn led all scorers with 18 points. Heather Scott added 11 in the victory. Also scoring for Rector were Jessica Scott 7, Wynn 6, Rebekah Scott 5, Harmon 4, Vanessa Jones 4, Bailey Haney 2, Kelly Fowler 2 and Anna Blackshare 2.
Weiner had four score in double figures, led by 16 from Kaci Mack.
The Lady Cougars returned to action Monday night at home, hosting 2A-3 contender Buffalo Island Central. Rector was topped by the visiting Lady Mustangs, 57-38.
BIC, who fell to champion Nettleton in the Division II Girls final of the NEA Tournament last week, started strong and never looked back Monday night. BIC led throughout: 19-8; 38-17 and 45-23.
The Lady Cougars were led by six points each from Kelly Fowler, Bailey Haney and Cheyenne Ellis.
Brittany Fowler scored 14 points to pace BIC.
Rector also fell in junior high action, 38-22.
The girls are slated to visit Marked Tree for another potential classic beginning at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9. Rector is set to host Maynard beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12.