BOWLING GREEN —
Without a dominant team the likes of 2013 powerhouse Marion County, this week’s Girls Sweet Sixteen could be described as the land of opportunity.
After Ashland knocked off highly regarded Henderson County 56-48 in Wednesday’s opening game, coach Bill Bradley told the media he agrees with others’ assessment of this being a wide-open tournament.
The Kittens, who seem to be building a why-not-us case for themselves, take on Sweet Sixteen newcomer Danville today at 1 p.m. (EST) in the quarterfinals at Diddle Arena.
With a victory, Ashland would advance to the state’s Final Four for the first time in the modern era of Kentucky high school girls basketball, which began in 1975.
The Kittens (25-8) are on a nice roll. They put together a 20-1 run down the stretch to derail Henderson County after beating Lewis County, Fleming County and top 10-ranked East Carter for their third consecutive 16th Region championship.
Ashland’s halfcourt man-to-man defense and improved offensive efficiency have been at the core of the team’s surge.
Bradley experienced his first State Tournament victory as Ashland’s head coach on Wednesday in his 252nd win guiding the Kittens.
“Most of all, I loved it for the girls and the program,” Bradley said. “I went to the State Tournament six times as a boys assistant at Boyd County and won some there. Obviously, it means more as a head coach, especially the way we had to fight back against a really good Henderson County team.”
Ashland trailed by 10 points on two occasions in the third quarter before going on a tear.
Bradley pointed to two offensive plays in the third quarter that helped energize the Kittens. Alex Young hit a 3-pointer from the corner after catching a long cross-court pass, and later eighth-grader Mykasa Robinson made a perfect backdoor pass to Shelby Gransbery for a layup that turned into a three-point play.
Overall, Gransbery gave the Kittens a major boost on both ends of the floor. Taking the ball to the basket repeatedly, the junior forward went 8-for-12 from the floor and sank all eight of her free throws for a career-best 24 points. She also blocked three shots and pulled down six rebounds.
Three-time regional tournament MVP Alexis Robinson and her younger sister are working well together in the backcourt. Alexis picked up three early fouls and sat out the last nine minutes of the first half, but returned to help fuel the team’s second-half charge. Her three-point play with 4:06 remaining broke a 42-42 tie and put Ashland ahead to stay.
“It was a little frustrating,” A-Rob said of her foul trouble. “I knew my team could play. Not to say they don’t need me, but they can do it themselves.”
Said Bradley: Alexis is content. She told me to keep calling Shelby’s number. That’s the sign of a winner.”
Ashland practiced Thursday at Bowling Green High School in preparation for today’s matchup against 12th Region champion Danville.
After the Kittens’ first-round win, Bradley sat in the stands and watched the Lady Admirals defeat Shelby Valley 52-48.
“It wasn’t pretty, but I’ll take a win,” Danville coach Judie Mason said.
No doubt. The Lady Admirals, a true rags-to-riches story, were making their State Tournament debut.
“For a team that’s never won a district (tournament) and never won a region game before this season to be in the final eight, it shows what these kids are made of,” Mason said. “We’ve built this team for three or four years.”
Senior point guard Essence Grey is the catalyst for the Lady Admirals and averages 17.3 points. She struggled with her shooting (4-for-15) against Shelby Valley but still supplied 14 points, six rebounds and four assists. Freshman Alyvia Walker stepped up to score 15, going 4-of-5 from the field and 7-of-10 at the free-throw line.
“I was really impressed with Danville’s quickness and how hard they played,” Bradley said. “They are a little quicker, and we are a little taller. With our length, we are hoping to negate their quickness.”
Ashland junior Haley-Sue Foutch worked the inside for nine rebounds, seven points, four steals and a blocked shot on Wednesday.
Danville met three Sweet Sixteen teams during the regular season, beginning with a 71-54 loss to Lafayette on opening night.
The Lady Admirals beat Newport Central Catholic 71-55 in the semifinals of the All “A” state tournament and then lost to Glasgow 53-43 in the title game.
Mason, who previously coached Somerset to a State Tournament appearance, called Danville’s run to the All “A” finals the turning point in the team’s season.
The Lady Admirals got out to a 17-9 lead after one quarter against Shelby Valley and went on to score 17 points off turnovers.
“We just don’t see that type of speed back home in the mountains,” Shelby Valley coach Rodney Rowe said.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.
-Today's Ashland-Danville game can be seen at khsaa.org or heard on WLGC 105.7-FM.