Shelby County advances to Elite 8
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
MONTGOMERY – After falling in the Sweet 16 in 2017 to Central-Tuscaloosa and the return of most of its players from that team, the Shelby County Wildcats made it a point to get back to the Regional Semifinals and redeem that loss in 2018.
On Friday, Feb. 16, the opportunity arose as Shelby County traveled to Montgomery to take on Marbury in the Sweet 16 at Alabama State University’s Dunn-Oliver Acadome.
With redemption still on their mind, the Wildcats’ focus was locked in and after a tightly contested first quarter of play that ended in a 13-13 tie, Shelby County went on to dominate the final three quarters outscoring Marbury 61-38 to pick up a 74-51 win and clinch that elusive spot in the Elite Eight.
In the opening quarter, Shelby County took an early lead, but every time they hit a shot, Marbury answered with a shot of its own. Eventually the Tigers were able to take a 13-11 lead in the final 30 seconds of the quarter period, which gave the Wildcats their first deficit of the game.
Shelby County responded, however, with a Maggie West layup off an Aaliyah Cotton steal to force a 13-13 tie at the buzzer of the first quarter.
That last-second shot seemed to spark the Wildcats in the second quarter as they became extremely active on both ends of the floor.
Not only did Cotton knock down three 3-pointers in the 2nd quarter, but Shelby County also ended up forcing several steals due to active hands, which led to several fast-break layups.
In the first half alone, the Wildcats forced 11 turnovers and had five steals, while they themselves turned the ball over just four times. It led to several points off turnovers.
Shelby County also started getting big rebounds later in the quarter after being out-rebounded in the early going. Seven offensive rebounds in the first half, most of which came in the second quarter, along with the defensive pressure led the Wildcats to a 17-8 run in the quarter.
They were able to take a nine-point, 30-21 lead into the halftime break, but were just getting started.
After a quick little 4-0 run from Marbury to start the third quarter, Shelby County turned into a new gear, which led to possibly the Wildcats’ best spurt of the season.
Thanks to two more 3-pointers from Cotton, who had hit four in a row, as well as that continued defense led to Shelby County going on a 19-0 run at one point in the third quarter to take commanding control of the game.
The Wildcats’ Madison Purcell was also bothering Marbury’s best player in Martisa Cannon, who eventually got a technical foul for head locking Purcell and throwing her to the ground.
That ended up being the story of the rest of the game as Shelby County continued to play smart composed basketball with great ball movement and fundamental defense.
Between the second and third quarters, the Wildcats were able to outscore Marbury 34-18 to take a large 51-29 lead into the final eight minutes of the game.
With the Elite Eight now well within grasp, Shelby County didn’t let up in the final quarter of action and went on to score 21 more points to win by the final score of 72-51.
The Wildcats ended up with four players in double figures for the game as they were dominant from start to finish.
Cotton led the way with 24 points thanks to five 3-pointers in the game. West also had a strong game scoring the ball as she posted 19 points of her own after shooting 6-7 from the free throw line and hitting five jump shots.
Also in double figures were Nataley Whitner and Skye Knighten-Lilly with 14 and 10 points, respectively.
The Wildcats will now play either Calera or Central-Tuscaloosa—the team that knocked them out a year ago—in the Elite Eight on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 4 p.m. in Montgomery.
Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com
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