Who do you stop on the Three Rivers roster?
It's a question every opponent asks but few have found the answer to.
Jefferson College became the latest team to leave Gene Bess Court without an answer as the Lady Raiders keep piling up the wins.
On Sophomore Day inside the Libla Family Sports Complex, both the sophomores and the freshmen got the job done for No. 25 Three Rivers. The Lady Raiders racked up 27 assists on the way to a 90-50 thumping of Jefferson. It's the 15th straight win for Three Rivers, which hasn't lost a game since Nov. 30, finishing its regular-season home schedule with a 12-3 record.
"This game is always emotional with it being the sophomores' last regular-season home game," Three Rivers coach Jeff Walk said. "The kids, they want to go out a winner. You want to finish this game in particular. … Once we finally got going and started sharing the basketball, it just felt like the game, it got easier for them."
With five players in double figures for the Lady Raiders (22-3, 8-0 Region XVI), led by 21 points from freshman Katelyn South, it was an average game for the team. Really, though, the Lady Raiders tout five different players with a double-figure scoring average, so Saturday was no different than most games.
"Every one of them are unselfish," Walk said. "They're just as happy when someone else makes a shot as they are when they make a shot. That's the mark of a good basketball team."
The leading scorers continue to alternate. It could be sophomore Hailee Erickson one night and Deanay Watson the next. The constant in that formula is the unselfishness. Each time a player dribbles the ball up the court while Walk implores the entire team to run in transition, eyes are always up, surveying the floor.
"We had 10 assists at the half, and we told them in the locker room at halftime, we said, 'If you guys will share the ball and distribute the ball, those shots will be in rhythm and will start falling. We got some run-outs; we got some early layups off the run-outs. Twenty-seven assists for the game to 17 turnovers, that's pretty good," Walk said.
It worked wonders Saturday. The win wasn't quite wire-to-wire with Jefferson scoring the first two points of the game, but Erickson was on fire from the start and scored 11 of her 13 points in the first four minutes of the game with three 3-pointers and a layup off a pass from Watson as she was falling out of bounds.
"We were just seeing our teammates. If we see them open, we're going to pass the ball," Watson said. "Basically wanting everyone on the team to get a chance to play the same game as us."
Then, South found her rhythm and took over. She got in the scoring column late in the first quarter with a triple in the corner off a handoff from An'Nyah Pettus, who tallied a game-high six assists from her frontcourt position. Pettus also added 11 points and 10 rebounds for her third double-double since returning from a wrist injury Dec. 28.
A hustle play from South led to a 3-point play in the final moments of the opening quarter when she rebounded her own miss and stuck it back through contact. At times, it seemed like she was automatic around the paint. In the second quarter, she stopped on a dime, pivoted around a defender and threw up a left-handed, off-balance shot that rattled in, summing up the kind of day she had.
"I was just telling myself to keep making shots, keep driving it in, look for the open person, but if I'm open, take it in, too," South said.
Watson, the team's second-leading scorer entering Saturday, showed up with her usual consistent play, too.
She finished with 18 points and seven rebounds while shooting 75 percent from the floor and scoring inside with ease. As she's done all season, she sprinted down the court faster than everyone to help speed up and initiate the offense. Watson didn't mince words about what led to her big game.
"Run. continue to run the floor and do good on defense and just get after it," Watson said.
So the question remains, who do you stop?
Mineral Area will have a week to come up with an answer. The Cardinals will host the Lady Raiders at 5 p.m. Feb. 16 in a showdown of Region XVI's top two teams.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic