|G. Michael Graham Photo. The Highlands Bluebirds get in defensive position in Friday's game at Conner against Boone County. The Bluebirds defeated the Lady Rebels, 52-40 for their eighth straight win.|
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
HEBRON – The wins are still not the prettiest.
But the Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team moved to 8-1 with its eighth straight win, 52-40 over the Boone County Lady Rebels (7-4) on Friday. Highlands finished 3-0 in pool play of the State Farm Classic at Conner.
“We told the girls after Christmas it is a very tough stretch for us,” said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. “It is not necessarily about wins and losses. We have to stop making the same mistakes over and over. Each game, we have to get better. In the past two games, we’ve gotten better.”
The Bluebirds take on the county rival Bishop Brossart Lady Mustangs (9-0) for the tournament title at 4:30 p.m. today. Highlands won the tournament last year.
Highlands took the lead for good with 6:27 left in the game when McKenzie Leigh hit two free throws. Leigh scored seven of her 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Leigh made another big play down the stretch with Highlands clinging to a four-point lead. Boone County trapped all over the floor and teammate Haley Coffey found her open at the left wing.
The sophomore put up a three-pointer as many Highlands supporters including her coaches shouted, “No.” But the shot swished the net to give the Blubirds a 46-39 advantage. Highlands then hit 5-of-6 free throws to ice the game.
Alex Combs made 5-of-6 in the fourth quarter on her way to a team-high 15 points and 7-of-8 overall. Combs also made both three-pointers.
“We do foul shots pretty much in between every drill in practice,” Combs said. “It helps us gain bigger leads at the end of a game when teams start to foul us.”
Brianna Adler also had a big game for Highlands with 14 points. Adler made all four free-throw tries and grabbed six rebounds. The Bluebirds have had two or three players reach double-digits most of the year.
Free throws made the difference in the game. Highlands made 16-of-19 for 84 percent. Boone County made 7-of-11 for 64 percent.
The Bluebirds shot better from the field. Highlands made 15-of-33 shots for 46 percent including 6-of-11 from three-point range for 55 percent. Highlands needed to hit some outside shots because Boone County constantly doubled and tripled the posts knowing the Bluebirds made a size advantage there.
The Lady Rebels made 13-of-42 shots for 31 percent. That included 7-of-16 from outside for 44 percent. Dallis Knotts led Boone County with 17 points making five three-pointers and Alexis Switzer had 15.
“At halftime, we showed the girls the stats,” Richey said. “They were 5-of-9 from threes. We wanted them to shoot lay-ups instead of threes. Alex Combs did a great job guarding Dallis Knotts in the second half and make it hard for her to get clean shots.”
The game stayed close until that fourth quarter. Highlands led 27-22 in the third after Lydia Graves recorded a fast-break lay-up. Boone County led 35-33 after three quarters.
Highlands is trying to develop some depth. Freshman Kiersten Clukey showed some promise scoring her five points in the final 1:12 of the first half. She made an old-fashioned three-point play and hit two more free throws during that stretch that gave Highlands a 23-19 advantage with 28.1 seconds left in the half.
“I just try to step up the best I can coming off the bench,” Clukey said. “(The starters) set a good example so I try to follow what they’re doing. I drive to the basket to try to get good shots.”
The Bluebirds led 23-22 at halftime. They’d trailed by four early in the game.
Highlands 47, Lexington Henry Clay 31:
Highlands started the day winning the defensive struggle over the Lady Devils (4-7).
Adler led Highlands scoring 16 points. She was the lone player on either team to reach double-digits.
“We cause a lot of mismatches because not a lot of teams can match up with us at all five spots,” Richey said. “If a team tries to stop Brianna, then someone picks it up.”
Highlands will have some time off after today’s game to prepare for 36th District rival Newport Central Catholic. The Bluebirds ended the Thoroughbreds season last year in the district semifinals.