USA Today's 20th ranked Women's Basketball team was put to their toughest test on Tuesday night as they survived an early scare from East Wake to win 55-53.
University of Cincinnati commit, Angel Rizor helped put the Warriors on the board early and often as she took three feeds from Mikieja Covington in the open frame to the basket. Zairya West led the Wildcats in scoring after one stanza by sinking a three pointer for her only points of the evening.
East Wake put their foot on the gas to close out the half, outscoring Millbrook 19-13 in the second quarter thanks in part to a Tamira Knuckles three, and two baskets apiece by Covington, and junior Emiyah Brown. The Warriors, who entered 2-0 with wins over Cary, and Northern Nash cruised into the break with a 33-23 lead over the Wildcats. Kai Crutchfield downed her only three of the game late in the half before Dazia Powell scored four points, two from the line, and two on a pass from Andreal Bass. Powell, who went 1-11 from the field in the first half, said the message at half time was to slowly but surely, try to chip away at the deficit.
"(Coach) East told us that we couldn't get it all back at one time, and put whatever happened in the first half behind us. We had to focus on breaking a comeback into small pieces by getting a couple points here, and then a couple stops there, followed by a few more points"
Sure enough, that's what the Wildcats did. Coming out of the break, they got a defensive stop and Powell answered on the other end by drawing a foul and cashing in on the ensuing two shots. One of Domonique Cross' four steals on the night followed, and it resulted in her finding herself at the charity stripe for two shots that she would hit to make it a 33-27 game. Rizor was picked off at half court following the inbound and back the other way came Millbrook who would make it a four point game as Powell grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it back up for the basket. Head Coach, Chris East says what makes Powell, who had 8 rebounds on the night, so valuable is her ability to make things happen defensively and on the glass.
"Obviously everybody in the gym knows how good of a shooter she is, and she's one of those girls that you want to have to ball in her hand but on a night like tonight where shots weren't falling, she really showed how complete of a player that she is by crashing the boards and leading us in that stat along with playing great defense, especially in the second half. That's definitely a part of her game that people don't see but it's such a strong suit for her."
Kai Crutchfield kept the hot streak going for Millbrook in the 3rd Quarter, she came away with a loose ball on a missed East Wake shot, and the NC State commit took it the length of the court for the score off of the glass. Next thing you know, L'Donnisty Granison grabbed one of her team leading five steals and pitched it ahead to Domonique Cross for the bucket, and just like that, Millbrook had come back to tie the game 33-33 on the strength of a 10-0 run. "They finally listened" said East who followed by saying that "we didn't shoot well in the first half, I think we went something like 7-34 from the field then and to see the girls stick to the game plan coming out of the break, and to see them stay true to themselves offensively helped get us back in the game".
Rizor and Shania Williams answered the Millbrook comeback by taking a 39-35 lead in the following minute, then Raya Coley helped tie things right back up with a steal and assist to Powell, then a banked in two from the left wing to make it 39-39 with 45.8 left in the 3rd. East Wake would have the final answer to end the quarter with a layup from Mikieja Covington to take a 41-40 lead.
L'Donnisty Granison, one of five seniors on this year's team, stepped up big in the final frame. She opened the fourth quarter by knocking down a long three pointer to give Millbrook a 43-41 advantage. East Wake would take things back on consecutive fouls from Zairya West but it was Granison who knotted the score back up at 45 with a basket on a bounce pass from Crutchfield who got her hands on one of Angel Rizor's ten turnovers on the night. The roller coaster affair continued as Domonique Cross sunk a free throw to take back the lead, only to give it right back to East Wake and Emiyah Brown who scored the last of her 12 points to make it 47-46 Warriors.
Rizor found herself back on the line following another basket from Granison and she would tie the score at 48-48 with 2:48 left in the game. Dazia Powell then ripped home a pair of free throws and got back to the line three seconds later following a five second call on East Wake on the inbound. Powell then split the two shots but it was now a 51-48 lead, Millbrook's largest of the game with 2:35 left in regulation. Angel Rizor wrapped up her 21 point, 7 rebound night with a three point play 42 seconds later to tie things back up 51, which would be the final time that the game would be tied up. The seventh lead change of the fourth quarter was the decisive one as it was the senior Granison who hooked up with fellow senior, Domonique Cross for the score with 1:38 left in the game to put Millbrook ahead 53-51. Both girls came off the bench for the Wildcats, and played to the tune of a combined 19 points, 11 rebounds, 9 steals. "The play coming out of the timeout at the end to get the go ahead basket from Dom' was executed perfectly, she played her heart out tonight" said Coach East, and for L'Donnisty, he acknowledged the fact that she "probably had the best game that she has had at Millbrook in a long time, both offensively, and defensively. Those two girls (Cross/Granison) do the dirty work; the things that most people don't want to do, and it's things like that, that we are going to need in order to be successful."
Crutchfield missed the front end of a one-and-one moments later but Millbrook got the ball right back on a steal from Dazia Powell who would ice the victory with two free throws to make it 55-51 with 29.9 left. Powell went 8-9 from the free throw line, and her 8 rebounds were accompanied by a team leading 16 points, 12 coming in the second half. Despite only going 4-18 from the field shooting, she knew that she had to turn to her other strengths to help the team come away with the win. "I couldn't let poor shooting get in the way of still contributing and I know that free throws are a real strength of mine so down the stretch, I really focused on taking the ball to the basket and hitting my shots" said the 5'9 junior whose Wildcats are now 5-0 going into Cap-8 Conference play next Friday night vs. Enloe, she followed by saying that "we need to keep up the intensity for a full 32 minutes. We know that we are going to get each team's best shot every night and we need to make sure that we don't slip up so we can achieve our goal of making it back to the playoffs".
It will indeed be a 9 day break for the 5-0 Wildcats before they take on Enloe at home in a Quad. The JV Girls, who were victorious 39-24 behind 23 combined points from Sarah Gutierrez, and Mikenize Butler, will tip off at 3:30, and the Varsity Women will begin at 6:00. For more information, follow Millbrook Women's Basketball on Twitter at @MillbrookWBB.