Wildcats headed back to Sweet 16, ready for redemption

Published 10:56 am Tuesday, February 12, 2019

By SETH HAGAN | For the Reporter

COLUMBIANA – The Shelby County Wildcats put on a defensive showcase for their crowd in their last home game of the season, as they quickly dispatched the Bibb County Choctaws 68-24 in the sub-regional round of the playoffs on Monday, Feb. 12, to move on to the Sweet 16 in Class 5A.

“I thought they took our game plan, what we did in practice real well,” said Wildcats head coach Ashley Phillips. “Being at home, you like to come out with a fast start and then keep putting it on them. There’s no question we played well tonight.”

Shelby County (29-1, 7-0) raced out to a big lead on the strength of 10 steals in the first quarter alone. The Wildcats’ anticipation was on point and led to their hands in the passing lanes all night.

Skye Knighten-Lilly scored the game’s first five points then Natalie West took over scoring 13 in a row, including a couple of bombs from long range.

The Wildcats scored 20 of the game’s first 21 points, and the Choctaws didn’t make a basket until 1:25 to go in the first quarter. As the clock hit zeros for the first time, Shelby County’s 23-5 lead already looked insurmountable.

Phillips’ squad got whatever they wanted on offense in the first half, be it in transition off a turnover or in their half-court offense. where they moved ball swiftly around Bibb County defenders.

West added another three and Aaliyah Cotton drilled two herself, including one from the parking lot in the middle of the second quarter.

The pace slowed, but Shelby County still imposed its will and grew the lead to as big as 30, despite the Choctaws finally breaking their press.

The Wildcats still grabbed four more steals, forced 17 total turnovers in the first half and scored an incredible 19 points off of those turnovers for a 40-12 lead at halftime.

The girls continued to dominate the game after the break with little doubt as to its result. They duplicated the defensive success of the second quarter and took it another step allowing no field goals in the entire third quarter, as Bibb County only managed a couple of free throws.

Shelby County also stayed hot from the perimeter, hitting three more from outside, including West’s fifth three of the contest. She finished the night with a game-high 19 points through three quarters.

“She’s real fast down the court with the ball, she shoots the three ball, she can drive, she can rebound,” Phillips said. “She kind of hurt her knee a little the other night, but she did well early before kind of tweaking it, so we took her out of the game in the third quarter.”

Shelby County hit three triples each quarter to finish with 12 for the game.

“That may be the best we shot the three ball all year,” Phillips said. “We’re playing multiple girls who can shoot it. We’re not the tallest team so we won’t pound the ball inside like a lot of teams.”

Lilly finished with 18 points and hit three from beyond the arc as well, despite an apparent ankle injury in the final quarter.

Nataley Whitner scored 12 for the Wildcats, while Cotton finished with 11 points and a trio of treys to her name as the team finished with four starters scoring in double figures.

Shelby County will have a week to rest before facing either Vigor or Jackson on Monday, Feb 18, in the Sweet 16.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.