FAYETTEVILLE — Southeast Raleigh’s girls basketball program has been built on defense.
“It’s our calling card,” as Bulldogs coach Nicole Meyers puts it.
Defense has allowed Southeast to make the elite eight in 4A girls’ basketball for four of the past five seasons. It was there again for Southeast Wednesday night.
However, the Bulldogs added a lot of offense as well and rolled by Fayetteville 71st 83-51 to advance to the regional final for the first time in those last four appearances.
Southeast (29-0) will meet fellow Wake County unbeaten and defending state champion Millbrook (30-0) Saturday at 2 p.m. at Crown Coliseum for a spot in the state championship game.
Junior guard Alexus Hicks best typified the Bulldogs’ offensive surge in the win over 71st. Hicks scored a career-high 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field, including four of six 3-pointers. She had 18 points in the game’s first 11 minutes of play, equaling the output of the entire Falcons’ team to that point.
“My teammates just set me up,” Hicks said of her night. “We made plays on defense, our post players got rebounds and hit us on outlet passes and we made a lot of shots.”
Making shots is what the Bulldogs have been doing all season. They’re averaging 61 points a game, an unheard of total for a Southeast club. The 2009-10 Bulldogs team that reached regionals averaged just 42 points a game and last year’s team put up 52 points a game.
“We have more skilled players to create offense than we’ve had on some years,” Meyers said. “We’re still all about defense and trying to limit how many points the other team scores, but we’ve got a lot more offensive diversity and it makes a huge difference.”
The Bulldogs’ ability to spread 71st’s bigger post players out and create driving lanes for the likes of senior Amara Bell, Hicks and sophomore Amber Richardson turned a game that was close for about four minutes into a blowout late in the first half.
Hicks and Richardson (16 points on the night) hit pairs of 3-pointers in the first half helping Southeast string together a 20-10 run.
The Bulldogs were six-of-10 from 3-point range and were frankly about six of 10 from everywhere.
Southeast shot 61 percent from the field (33-of-54) and 79 percent from the free throw line (11-of-14) as well.
“We were all on the same page,” said Bell, a state champion high jumper, who added 16 points to Southeast’s Wednesday night total. “We followed direction well, the underclassmen new how much the seniors wanted it and we trusted each other to make plays.”
Senior forward Kaleisha Moore had 10 points, while Jada Phillips led Southeast with six rebounds.
There were still plenty of defensive plaudits for the Bulldogs in the win. They held 71st’s leading scorer – Ashley McCray – scoreless on the night. She got off just three shots.
They forced 11 Falcons turnovers in the first half, bolting out to a 42-20 lead at the break. And 71st shot just 38 percent from the field.
“That’s what we take pride in,” Meyers said of her team’s defense.
Wednesday’s result brought plenty of pride for the Bulldogs on both ends of the court.