Helena advances to Elite Eight for first time in school history

Published 2:32 pm Thursday, February 17, 2022

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

MONTGOMERY – The Helena Huskies not only made good on their promise of earning a spot in the Sweet 16 this year, but the Huskies added one of the biggest wins in program history on Thursday, Feb. 17.

After falling short of the Sweet 16 a year ago, the Huskies made it their goal to get there this year, then see what happened from there. Well, after earning a spot in the Regional tournament, what happened was earning the team’s first trip to the Elite Eight.

Taking on No. 7 McGill-Toolen, the Huskies used a 16-10 third quarter to overcome a three-point halftime deficit and notch a 45-43 victory that sent them to the Elite Eight.

In the opening quarter of the game, the Huskies did what they needed to do to keep the game close and build confidence in a nerve-wracking environment.

They jumped out to a 5-0 lead quickly behind a layup from Kennedi Nobels and a 3-pointer from Mallory Rhodes.

From there, the Yellow Jackets responded with an 8-0 run to storm in front, but Helena then finished the quarter with four straight from Olivia Johnigan to take a 9-8 lead at the end of one.

It was just the start of a huge game for Johnigan, who was crucial in the second quarter.

McGill came out ready to roll and totaled 16 points in the quarter, but Johnigan scored 10 of her team’s 12 in the period to keep the game close, as the Yellow Jackets took a 24-21 lead into the break.

Johnigan’s points in the second quarter became crucial because of what it allowed the offense to do in the third quarter, which was grab the lead going to the final period.

The Huskies put together their best offensive quarter of the game out of the half, and it started with a 6-0 run to regain the lead at 27-24.

That was part of a 10-2 start to the quarter for the Huskies.

McGill battled back to even the game at 31-31, but Johnigan, Alana Scott and Kennedi Nobles all scored down the stretch to give the Huskies a 37-34 lead going to the final quarter.

Putting the Jackets away, however, became a challenge with the pressure of history weighing squarely on Helena’s shoulders.

McGill cut the deficit to one point on three different occasions, but the Huskies had clutch answers every time.

After the Jackets cut the deficit to one point at 42-41 with 1:08 left behind a 3-pointer, Helena responded with three of four from the line from Johnigan to take a 45-41 advantage.

From there, McGill got to within two points at 45-43 with 10 seconds left and actually ended up with a last-second shot to win the game.

Following two missed free throws from Nobles, the Jackets took a shot from three as time expired, but a block from Sophia Merchant helped the Helena fans take a deep breath, as the Huskies held on for the two-point win

Helena got 23 points and nine rebounds from Johnigan, who went 14-17 from the free throw line in the win. Nobles also finished in double figures with 12 points, adding five assists and four rebounds. Scott totaled seven points and eight rebounds, while Merchant was big on the glass as well with eight rebounds.

The Huskies will now take on rival Pelham in the Elite Eight for a spot in the Final Four on Tuesday, Feb. 22 inside Garrett Coliseum. It will mark the fourth matchup between the two teams this season.