By: Greg Bird
Playing five games in six days can take a lot out of a basketball team, but the Lady Raiders dug deep and ended the grueling span with four hard-earned wins and a lot of respect from their coach.
After their 71-57 win over Hazard Saturday improved their record to 8-6, Lady Raiders’ Darry Burkett said he was very happy with the effort put forth by his team over the past week and believes the team grew a lot over that span.
“I can’t ask for much more out of these kids than that,” Burkett said. “I was really worried about how much more they had left in the tank. They really sucked it up and I think it was a great learning experience for them. Now they know they can play when they are tired and fatigued.”
Led by Kaylee Cotton’s 39 points and a strong second quarter the Lady Raiders improved to 8-6 on the season, and are gearing up for a second-half run.
Coach Burkett said he has set goals in mind for the team in the coming two months that he believes will make a huge difference by the end of the season.
“There are three things I really want to work on,” he said. “First, we have to trust our offense, we are too quick to take a shot. We need to slow it down and trust the play.”
“Second, we have to block out further from the board. We are battling for rebounds, but we are too far up under the basket. “
“Third, we have to be able to guard penetration better than we do. When they lower their head and go at us, we have a tendency to open up like a Tartar Gate. We have to be able to break down and keep those people in front of us. We have 52 days to get better at those three things before the District Tournament, that’s what I’m counting on.”
Against Hazard, McCreary struggled to settle in for the first few minutes, allowing the Lady Bulldogs to grab an early lead. McCreary eventually got in to sync, and took a lead, which they never gave up.
McCreary outscored Hazard 20-13 in the second quarter to take a 39-24 lead at the half and would expand that lead to 23 points by the start of the fourth quarter.
With the Lady Raiders’ starters on the bench for most of the final 8 minutes, Hazard tried to chip away at the lead, but still couldn’t put together enough offense to make much of a difference.
With Cotton’s 39-point performance, on a night when she was honored for becoming McCreary’s all-time leading scorer, Coach Burkett addressed leaving his featured player in the game until late in the fourth quarter.
“We are trying to foster an atmosphere of family out here,” he said. “I’m sure some people thought she played too long, and others probably thought she didn’t play enough. When I took her out of the game, her teammates asked me to put her back in because they knew she had a pretty good game going. I think that says a lot about our team, for the girls to care about each other like that. I’m so proud we are starting to foster that family atmosphere around our team.”
Saturday’s win came less than 9 hours after the Lady Raiders finished a 72-58 win over Cumberland County Friday evening.
In a much more competitive contest, McCreary surged in the fourth quarter to finally pull away from the Lady Panthers in a game that saw Cumberland rally back in the third quarter.
The Lady Raiders led by 7 at the half, but Cumberland put together a strong run in the third quarter to steal the lead briefly. McCreary would regain the lead, but were not able to pull away until back-to-back three-pointers from Allyson Anderson and Lauren Phillips midway through the final period finally gave the Lady Raiders some breathing room.
Over the two game span Cotton scored a combined 71 points, followed by Paige Neal with 31, Lauren Phillips with 13, Allyson Anderson with 13, Hayley Jones with 11, Aryn Stephens with 2 and Brianna West with 2.
The Lady Raiders travel to Southwestern Friday, then return home Saturday afternoon where they will host Berea at 5:00 p.m. Their following game will also be at home when they take on Somerset Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m.