CARY — There were two trying instances for Apex’s girls basketball team on Friday, but the Cougars had two factors that kept it in control even when things weren’t going smoothly – their defense and their lead.
The visiting Cougars didn’t get flustered with a cold-shooting first half or a late charge from Tri-9 Conference rival Cary and downed the Imps 45-36.
Apex led wire-to-wire and defense, particularly in the first half, was a big reason why. The Cougars missed all eight of their first-half 3-pointers, but led by as many as 14.
“The defense was great in the first half. We were getting great looks on offense but couldn’t knock anything down,” Apex coach Jay Huffman said.
Cary’s leading scorer entering the game, senior Whitney Coleman, was held in check by forward Mia Castagnero.
“Mia did an excellent job especially, because she was at about 60 percent – she was sick. She’s always the lock-down defender we use. She’s big and physical and fast,” Huffman said. “She did a heck of a job in the first half. I think Whitney touched the ball three times and scored two points.”
Coleman’s first offensive touch didn’t come until 2:16 remaining in the first quarter, and her first basket didn’t come until the 2:56 mark in the second quarter.
That helped the Cougars jump out to leads of 12-1 and 20-8 after the first and second quarters, respectively.
Cary (2-5, 0-2) is still without one of its top players, as highly-recruited junior Azura Stevens will have to sit out until winter break with a fracture in her femur. In the meantime, Coleman is carrying the load.
Coleman, a UNC-Greensboro signee, had team-highs in points (15), rebounds (seven) and steals (seven), and it was her efforts that sparked an 8-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter to cut Apex’s lead to 31-28.
“It was good to show some fight, but you can’t take a half off and expect to win a basketball game,” said Cary coach Patrick Daly. “Credit to (Apex) , they played tough defense all night... (Coleman) is doing all she can do without forcing things.”
Apex (4-2, 2-0) was led in scoring by Tiffany Finley with 11. Teammates Emily Sasser, Joelle Deese and Castagnero added nine, seven and six points, respectively.
The Cougars are already close to reaching last year’s win total of seven.
“Everybody matured a lot,” Finley said of the changes from last year. “We hit the open person, when last year we didn’t, and in transition we give the ball up earlier.”
Apex has balanced scoring in all of its games this year as it continues to build without leading returning scorer, Aliya Ruffin, who suffered an ACL tear in the first game.
Castagnero pulled down a game-high nine rebounds, while teammate Sam Curcuru had team-highs in steals (four) and assists (four).
Cary junior Aisha Henry joined Coleman in double-figures with 10 points while leading the team in rebounds (eight).