Hillside girls’ coach Ovester Grays is navigating the part of the season that worries him the most — the middle of the PAC-6 Conference schedule.
The N&O No. 1 Hornets have steamrolled through the first half of the season with a 12-2 mark and through their first four conference games, they’ve been dominant — at least on the scoreboard. They were again on Thursday night in a 71-50 win over Jordan to move to 4-0 in the conference.
“We have to fight complacency,” Grays said. “These kids read. They know who’s won and who’s lost. Sometimes we play based on what a team’s record is or on who somebody beat or didn’t beat. We have to get them to realize they have to play hard all the time. That’s the challenge we face.”
Hillside has won its first four PAC-6 games by an average of 38.8 points with the win over Jordan being the closest. They still have to play Riverside and Cardinal Gibbons to get through the first go-round.
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Despite the 21-point victory by the Hornets, Grays said he was concerned with how his team came out at the start of the contest. They didn’t put the game out of reach until late in the third quarter.
“We weren’t satisfied with the way we were playing in the first half,” Grays said. “Our energy level, our synchronization wasn’t there. We didn’t box out well. I thought we did all of those things better in the second half. That enabled us to do some of the things we like to do on the offensive end.”
Hillside’s lead was down to eight points before they went on a decisive 10-0 run to put some distance on the Falcons.
Senior forward Elisia Grissett led the way with 27 points and nine rebounds. Senior point guard Kelbi Lewis added 15, including three 3-pointers. Michaela Thompson also grabbed nine rebounds to go along with eight points.
“Our defense picked up in the fourth quarter and that led to some offensive chances for us,” Grissett said. “Our defense was awesome. We played as a team.”
Jordan coach Ty Cox said his team did a good job hanging with the Hornets and that they just needed to make more shots. By his account, they missed 30 shots in the paint, going 13 for 43 from close range.
“We missed 30 shots inside the paint,” Cox said. “And we missed 17 free throws. If we shoot a better percentage [at the line], that’s half the lead right there. And we miss four or five more of those we missed in the paint, it’s a different game. We beat ourselves. We didn’t convert our free throws and we missed 30 shots in the paint, thats it.”
Jordan (10-4, 3-3) has seven freshmen and sophomores getting substantial playing time as first-time varsity players and they’re showing their youth, according to Cox.
Against teams from outside PAC-6, the Falcons have flourished, going 7-1, but they’ve been a .500 team against conference opponents, dropping to 3-3 after losing back-to-back against Hillside and against Riverside on Tuesday.
“I think we played much better tonight than we did Tuesday,” Cox said. “We did everything we were supposed to but with seven freshmen and sophomores, we’ve still got the second half of the season. It’s the first time for seven of our 10 players. They’ve seen the difference in the intensity in the conference games the first time through and it should be different the next time.”
In the boys’ game, Hillside led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter but needed overtime to beat Jordan 59-55 to earn their first PAC-6 win.
The Hornets (10-5, 1-3) actually fell behind by five points in the final period before rallying to tie the game at 45-45 on a pair of free throws by Amiyr Mohammed.
Hillside went up 51-45 to start the extra period before Jordan’s Xavier Eason hit a driving layup and drew a blocking foul. He made his free throw to cut the lead in half with 57.3 seconds left. But they never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
The Hornets salted the game away at the free throw line, managing to make 8 of 12 foul shots to secure their fifth win in their last six games. And it was their third win in row in as many nights after beating Leesville Road and Chapel Hill in the previous two.
Jordan fell to 8-6 overall and 3-3 in the conference.