Green Hope girls basketball coach Mike Robinson knows the fear that over-confidence will creep into a team’s psyche when forced to open the state playoffs against a conference rival it had already beaten twice in the regular season.
“Beating a team a third time is hard,” said Robinson, whose recent conference championship clubs avoided falling victim to the scenario. “We play each other so many times that we know each other well.”
Well, Cary’s Southwest Wake Athletic Conference champions were all business as the third-seeded Imps (21-3) defeated Green Hope (11-13) for the third time in a row this season with a 63-47 victory in the in the first round of the 4A state playoffs Monday night at the Imps’ gym.
“We knew this was the first round of the playoffs and we had to come out and play hard,” said senior Mallory Curtis, who scored 10 points with two 3-point field goals. “We beat them twice, but we weren’t thinking about being overconfident. We were thinking that this is our first game in the playoffs and we have to win.”
Another reason Cary wasn’t prime for an upset is Duke-bound Azura Stevens saved her best game of the three against the Falcons for the playoffs. In the first two meetings, Stevens scored 32 in a 57-47 win and 26 in a 59-45 victory.
This time the 6-foot-5 center that plays with the agility of a guard did everything but dunk with 39 points, 23 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Stevens appeared prepared to dunk late in the game when she took a stolen pass at midcourt and picked up speed as if she was on a long jump runway approaching the basket, but she chose to pull up and score with a layup.
“That (dunking) is something I have to learn to do this summer,” she said with a grin.
Cary’s fast start with a 16-4 lead in the first quarter also put to rest any concerns the Imps would play without tournament experience after missing last year’s playoffs.
“We went to third round two years ago,” Stevens said, adding the Imps also were a playoff team when she and Curtis were freshmen on the varsity. “We didn’t think about that.”
Green Hope battled back from the 16-4 hole it dug when the Falcons narrowed the deficit to 21-14 with 3:58 left in the game on a basket by Meredith Courtney. But Stevens responded with six straight points, including converting one offensive rebound basket.
The Falcons closed to within 31-23 with 6:26 left in the third period, but Stevens answered with nine straight points. Three of the baskets were converted offensive rebounds, including a 3-point play. She posted a double-double in the third period alone with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Erin Coogan led Green Hope with 15 points and Jaria Martin added 10.
As the No. 3 seed Cary has another home game Wednesday in the second round against Riverside, but the chances for Triangle fans – especially those parents with daughters in middle school who love the sport – to see they Stevens as a high school star are counting down. Soon she will be all Duke’s under coach Joanne P. McCallie.