Heritage’s undersized girls basketball team must beat you with quickness, pressure defense and offensive teamwork.
In other words, Heritage wants to be like a familiar opponent it has earned the right face in the final of the 45th annual Holiday Invitational John Wall girls bracket – Cap-8 Conference foe Millbrook.
Heritage and Millbrook won semifinal matches with similar styles of play on Tuesday at Cary Academy’s gym, and they had three days off before the final at 1:50 p.m. Friday at Broughton High.
Heritage (10-1), ranked No. 5 among N&O area schools, beat Green Hope in the first semifinal, 51-48. Top-ranked Millbrook (12-1) defeated Northwood Temple of Fayetteville in the second semi, 69-47.
The title game also is a warmup to their first Cap-8 meeting on Jan. 6 at Millbrook. The Wildcats and Huskies are both off to 4-0 starts in conference play.
Millbrook is the defending N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A champion, but Wildcats coach Chris East considers the Huskies state title contenders.
“Heritage has one of the best teams in the state,” Millbrook coach Chris East said. “I look forward to playing them. (Heritage coach) Pat Kennedy always does something different. It helps me as a coach. I think it will be a really good rivalry game.”
The Huskies play a similar style to Millbrook but with less experience. Junior point guard Alissa Smalls is the veteran among four sophomore starters.
Heritage used full-court pressure in the third quarter to overcome Green Hope’s 24-20 halftime lead. The Huskies outscored Green Hope 21-7 to take a 41-31 advantage into the final period.
Smalls sparked the run with seven points to finish with 11 points and eight steals.
“This year I’ve worked on getting steals,” Smalls said. “I try to get steals to get the team going and play with energy.”
Cydney Johnson, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, led the Huskies with 17 points.
Northwood Temple of Fayetteville trailed Millbrook 13-12 in the first quarter until Millbrook pushed the ball upcourt and Raya Coley hit a layup at the buzzer for a three-point edge.
In the remaining quarters the Wildcats outscored the Eagles by 9, 6 and 4 as Northwood Temple coach Donald Moore exhausted defensive adjustments against an opponent with interchangeable parts.
“You can’t double anybody,” Moore said. “They have multiple players that can play multiple positions. Those girls are seniors that have been together a long time.”
Senior Andreal Bass posted her second-straight double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds before she went to the bench with 3:48 to play. Dazia Powell added 11 points and Kai Crutchfield 14.
“If somebody gets in foul trouble we have to have somebody fill that role, but we’re so interchangeable we’re able to that,” said Powell. “We have to communicate a lot. That’s what we work on in practice – game situations, foul trouble and switching the lineup.”
Although the John Wall finals are Friday at Broughton, the remaining games to determine places were Wednesday at Cary Academy.
Third place: Green Hope 73, Northwood Temple 62: Green Hope’s Nia Washington led the No. 19 Falcons (11-3) with 33 points to fend off sisters Kendal Moore (27 points) and Ciara Moore (24) and Northwood Temple (12-4).
Each team made eight 3-pointers, which helped set a new tournament single-game record. Northwood Temple made 26 3-pointers over its three games to set a new tournament record. Kendal Moore broke the individual mark for most 3s with 13.
Fifth place: Clinton 72, Ravenscroft 63: Duke-bound Mikayla Boykin scored 33 points (21 rebounds) and Alex Canady added 18. Ravenscroft (8-5), which is ranked No. 22 in the N&O area, got 23 points from Madison Taylor (10 assists, six steals, five rebounds) and 20 from Lynn Johnson (10 rebounds).
Seventh place: Cary 56, Riverside 53: No. 16 Cary (7-5) got 19 points from Arian Smith and 16 from Tamari Key (nine rebounds)
Key broke the single-game tournament mark for most blocks in a game (nine) and the most in a single tournament with 19.
No. 24 Riverside dropped to 6-7 despite 14 points from Ladasia Jones and 10 from Aijah Perry.