RUSSELL Russell coach Mandy Layne called them “two really bad bugaboos” — a tough shooting game and difficulty getting defensive stops.
The Lady Devils withstood both to challenge George Rogers Clark late on Saturday afternoon in the Marvin Meredith Classic.
Russell used a 13-6 run to start the fourth quarter to melt a 13-point hole entering the frame to six before Aubrey Hill made a steal to set up an open Lady Devils 3-pointer. A conversion would’ve lifted Russell within one possession with 3:15 to go.
But it found only iron, and the Lady Devils got no closer the rest of the way in a 66-58 setback.
“They’re a really good basketball team,” Layne said of Clark. “I did think that we’re getting better, though, because they’re one of the best teams in the state. We either had to get a shot to drop or we had to get a stop. Unfortunately, we weren’t getting either one.”
The Lady Cardinals shot 60% from the field to fulfill the second part of that lamentation.
Russell led, 15-14, after Kaeli Ross’s baseline pullup jumper a minute and a half into the second quarter. Then an odd sequence put the Lady Cardinals in front, and it was a catalyst to a long run.
Trinity Gay scored in the lane while being fouled at the 5:50 mark. She missed the ensuing free throw, but the Lady Devils didn’t pursue it, and Clark’s Shelbi Wilson collected it and followed up uncontested.
Layne said after the game that her players told her an official told them it was a two-shot foul, which is why they were caught napping. Regardless, that four-point trip touched off a 25-8 Lady Cardinals spurt that lasted until Brianna Byars’s transition layup put Clark ahead, 39-23, with 5:47 to go in the third quarter.
“There’s just some mental mistakes that we’re making right now that you can’t make against really good competition,” Layne said, “and until we clean those things up, we’re gonna struggle to beat a really good basketball team.”
Clark coach Robbie Graham called the aforementioned sequence “a crucial play.” More important, in his eyes, was the Lady Cardinals’ defense, which mixed man-to-man and zone looks with some pressure and worked around foul trouble to hold the Lady Devils to 7-for-21 shooting (33.3%) in the first half.
“They’ve got some really nice players, their coach does a good job and I know they’re one of the favorites to win the 16th,” Graham said of Russell, “so we feel like this is a really good win for us, to come on the road and beat them on their home court.”
Russell (6-5) got more production from Hill in the post in the second half. She scored 10 of her 18 points in the third quarter, tying her for the team high with Ross.
“We’re still trying to get Aubrey healthy, too,” Layne said of the interior presence whose season ended prematurely last year with a torn ACL. “She’s still trying to get herself back in the mix and get her feet on the ground. ... We always want to give her a great option and make her one of our most offensive weapons.”
Hill’s third-quarter rhythm made Clark adjust defensively.
“(Russell’s) size gave us a little bit of a problem,” Graham said. “Not everybody is as long as they are, so we had to change some things around and play a little bit of zone to try to throw them off-guard a little bit.”
Shaelyn Steele added 12 points for Russell, eight of them in the fourth quarter. Malia Blevins added two 3-pointers down the stretch.
Layne also liked that Bella Quinn and Campbell Jachimczuk got some floor time off the bench against the three-time defending 10th Region champions.
“This is a pretty big game for them,” Layne said, “and getting used to playing in these games, the only way to do that is experience.”
Kennedy Igo pitched in 20 points for the Lady Cardinals (7-4), who beat Russell for the first time since 1997 (they’d only met twice since then before Saturday). Tyra Flowers netted 18 and Byars dropped in 12.
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GR CLARK FG FT REB TP
Gay 3-6 0-1 5 6
Igo 6-11 6-7 3 20
Wilson 4-7 0-0 6 8
Flowers 8-10 2-6 4 18
B. Byars 5-7 2-5 9 12
Berry 1-3 0-1 1 2
Miller 0-0 0-0 0 0
C. Byars 0-1 0-0 0 0
TOTAL 27-45 10-20 30 66
FG Pct.: 60.0. FT Pct.: 50.0. 3-pointers: 2-8 (Igo 2-5, Gay 0-2, Berry 0-1). PF: 14. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 16.
RUSSELL FG FT REB TP
Steele 3-13 6-6 2 12
Blevins 2-4 2-2 6 8
Ross 6-13 3-4 3 18
Hill 8-14 2-5 8 18
Ruggles 1-2 0-0 2 2
B. Quinn 0-2 0-0 2 0
Jachimczuk 0-0 0-0 0 0
Atkins 0-0 0-0 0 0
TOTAL 20-48 13-17 29 58
FG Pct.: 41.7. FT Pct.: 76.5. 3-pointers: 5-14 (Ross 3-9, Blevins 2-3, Steele 0-1, B. Quinn 0-1). PF: 19. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: 16.
GR CLARK 12 19 20 15 — 66
RUSSELL 13 8 17 20 — 58
Officials: Dave Anderson, P.R. Stephens and Charlie Graham.