Traveling to Athens to face their oldest rival Tuesday, the Bradley squads had opposite outputs but the same results.
The fourth-ranked Bearettes (19-2, 9-0 District 5-AAA) had to knock off some early rust before exploding for a 32-2 run in the second half on their way to a 65-39 blowout of second place McMinn County (14-6, 7-3) to claim their second straight regular season district championship.
Meanwhile the Bears (13-8, 7-2) exploded out of the gate before fading just a bit near the end to complete the season sweep of the Cherokees (8-13, 3-7) by a 69-58 tally.
The two district losses equal that same mark by Cleveland (14-8, 8-2) and Ooltewah (14-6, 8-2), but Bradley has three district games left, including a big showdown with the Owls Feb. 8, while the other two have just two.
“We got off to a great start and our defensive intensity was really good the whole night, but I felt we lost some focus near the end because we had a good lead and it looked like we were going to win,” declared veteran Bear head coach Kent Smith. “It’s a busy week for us, so it’s good to get it off with a good win.”
Bradley will travel to the foot of Signal Mountain this evening to take on Baylor, before hosting Rhea County and Northwest Whitfield (Ga.) on Friday and Saturday.
Before last night, the Bearettes hadn’t played since suffering just their second loss of the season, to five-time Georgia state champion Wesleyan, back on Jan. 19, and the layoff showed early on as McMinn drained the game’s opening 3-pointer and led the entire first period.
“I’ve never had a team have a 10-day layoff at this point in a season, so our timing was off some at the start,” commented Bearette head coach Jason Reuter. “We scrimmaged the freshmen boys yesterday (Monday), but it’s not the same as a real game.
“Give McMinn credit. They came out and put pressure on us and stayed right with us throughout the first half, but we were able to make some adjustments that our girls did real well to get us back to where we needed to be,” coach Reuter explained.
After trailing 16-14 at the first break, senior Kayla Withrow drilled a 3-pointer to open the second frame for Bradley’s first lead of the evening. The teams traded the lead two more times and had the score tied twice before junior Rebecca Reuter and senior Brandi Whitted put in points from the paint in the final 30 seconds of the half for a 27-24 Bearette advantage.
After having to sit the last 11 1/2 minutes of the first half due to foul trouble, junior Brooke Copeland put in the first basket after the intermission to stretch the Bradley lead to five.
The hosts came firing right back with seven straight points to retake the lead on a KeKe Smith “trey” with at the 5:30 mark, but that would turn out to be their last field goal until the final 75 seconds of the contest.
With just a pair of free throws during the more than 12-minute span, the Lady Cherokees missed 18 straight shots as the Bearettes filled the nets with 32 points on their way to the 26-point victory.
“We shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, but upped that to 69 percent in the second half,” coach Reuter related.
Bradley’s 6-foot-2 “Twin Towers” did the majority of the damage as Copeland ripped the cords on 9-of-12 shots for 20 points, plus grabbed a half dozen rebounds and blocked a pair of shots. Rebecca Reuter posted yet another double-double with 18 points and a dozen caroms, plus she handed out five assists, swatted away a trio of shots and copped a pair of steals.
Withrow hit 4-of-5 two-pointers, plus a 3-pointer on her way to 11 points, plus she dished out eight of Bradley’s 21 assists on the evening. Whitted helped out with four points, three helps and a trio of rebounds.
“Having more than 20 assists (on 28 made shots) in a game is what you want to see,” praised coach Reuter. “Once we got the lead there in the third period, we switched to a 2-3 zone defense and that really worked for us.”
Only four McMinn players found the bottom of the net Tuesday with Smith and Haley Ward netting 11 points apiece, while Rachel Burke added 10.
BEARS 69, CHEROKEES 58
After the teams traded the game’s first 13 points, senior Bryce Copeland got “a hoop and some harm” to spark a 15-6 Bear run to put the visitors ahead for good.
Copeland exploded for 11 of his career-high 32 points in the second frame as Bradley extended its lead to 16 points at the half with a second straight 21-13 period.
Bradley’s offensive production dropped by 10 points in the third period as McMinn shaved a pair of points off the lead. The Cherokees closed the gap to 10 points twice in the final eight minutes but that was as close as they would come as the Bears sealed the victory by hitting 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute.
“We were efficient with our offense in the first half and we shared the ball well,” remarked coach Smith. “I was disappointed with the way we finished the game. For some reason after we got the big lead we didn’t seem to play as hard. We can’t afford to do that. We need to finish better.”
Copeland hit 9-of-20 shots from the field, including four 3-pointers, plus sank 10-of-15 free throws to account for the most prolific offensive total of four-year varsity career. He also pulled down five rebounds and copped a pair of steals.
Taylor Bentley also had a banner night for the Bears with 19 points, including 12-of-14 from the charity stripe. The junior guard also had three caroms and a trio of assists
Senior Caleb Cain was chairman of the boards, cleaning the glass for 11 ricochets, while classmate Matt Whitmire finished with a half dozen points, seven boards and a blocked shot. As a team Bradley went to the free throw line 35 times, making 28.
Ty Jones topped the Cherokee effort with 16 points, while Quentin Versa and Austin Hayes added 13 and 10 points respectively.
Bradley Central 14 13 16 22 — 65
McMinn County 16 8 9 6 — 39
BEARETTES (65) — Brooke Copeland 20, Rebecca Reuter 18, Kayla Withrow 11, Davis 4, Donaldson 4, Whitted 4, Pippenger 4, Thompson, Delane, Stallings, Hill.
LADY CHEROKEES (39) —KeKe Smith 11, Haley Ward 11, Rachel Burke 10, Guordiola 7, Lockmiller, Thompson, Kelley, Simbeck, Dispensa.
3-point goals: Bradley 2 (Withrow, Pippenger); McMinn 4 (Burke 2, Ward, Smith).
Free throws: Bradley 7-of-12; McMinn 7-of-8.
Records: Bradley Central 19-2, 9-0 District 5-AAA; McMinn County 14-6, 7-3 District 5-AAA.
Bradley Central 21 21 11 16 — 69
McMinn County 13 13 13 19 — 58
BEARS (69) — Bryce Copeland 32, Taylor Bentley 19, Whitmire 6, Cain 6, Cox 2, Clark 2, McCurdy 2, Terrell, Crisp.
CHEROKEES (58) — Ty Jones 16, Quentin Versa 13, Austin Hayes 10, Sanders 7, Edgemon 6, Simpson 4, Martin 2, Armstrong, Marshall.
3-point goals: Bradley 5 (Copeland 4,Bentley); McMinn 2 (Hayes 2).
Free throws: Bradley 28-of-35; McMinn 10-of-17.
Records: Bradley Central 13-8, 7-2 District 5-AAA; McMinn County 8-13, 3-7 District 5-AAA.