Trailing by six points at halftime, and as many as 10 earlier in the ballgame, the Plano Senior girls basketball team jumpstarted a potential comeback Friday against rival Plano East early in the third quarter on a steal-and-score by senior Maggie Robbins.
With 14 more turnovers generated by the Lady Wildcats over the final two quarters, it was only fitting that a takeaway sealed the team’s ninth consecutive district victory.
Nursing a 45-42 lead with 25 seconds remaining following a free throw by junior Amaya Brannon, Plano’s defense didn’t do so much as allow the Lady Panthers to get a shot off in the game’s waning moments. Brannon and fellow junior Avery Foltz trapped East sophomore Tiana Amos in the corner, only for Brannon to jar the ball loose and right into the arms of Foltz, who passed it out as the final seconds of the clock ticked away on a three-point Lady Wildcat victory.
“Our defense has been solid all year. They believe in it and they’ve worked hard on it,” said Rodney Belcher, Plano head coach. “They have that confidence and they believe in themselves. We play as a team and they play for each other. This was fun and exactly what it’s supposed to be. This is the kind of competition you want, and we were fortunate.”
Defense has been the calling card for the Lady Wildcats, who swelled their lead in the 9-6A standings to 2.5 games over second-place Allen after improving to 9-1 on Friday. Despite some ball security issues of its own in first half, which sparked a bevy of transition offense for the Lady Panthers, Plano seized control with a 15-6 advantage in the third quarter after trailing at the half, 24-18.
Robbins’ early takeaway was just the beginning, as Plano generated seven turnovers in the third stanza and eight more in the fourth. That, coupled with a renewed aggression in attacking the basket and scrapping for rebounds, helped will the Lady Wildcats to a 33-30 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Junior Mikayla Eddins was at the center of the third-quarter surge after being held scoreless in the first half. Eddins scored all 14 of her points over the final two frames, including eight in the third. She added a pair of offensive rebounds during a sequence where Plano hustled for a trio of second-chance opportunities before Eddins at last drew a foul on an attempted put-back.
“At halftime, the girls talked to each other about having been here before and how they felt like they would be fine,” Belcher said.
In between, East, which led 29-22 in the third quarter following a corner triple by Amos, went 9:20 of game time in between made field goals — a stretch where the Lady Wildcats outscored the Lady Panthers 12-3 before sophomore Ada Anamekwe was fouled on a made layup with 5:25 left in the ballgame to knot the action at 34-34.
Neither side held more than a three-point advantage the rest of the way, mixing in three more ties and a pair of lead changes. Amos gave East life after burying a difficult 3-pointer for a 39-38 advantage with 4:15 left only for Eddins to scrap her way back to the free-throw line for a pair of makes to give Plano a lead it didn’t relinquish.
Getting to the finish line didn’t come without its hardships, as a rough-and-tumble final few minutes led to Robbins and East sophomore Donavia Hall both fouling out, as well as Plano sophomores Sanaa Murphy-Sowers and Jaden Berry sustaining injuries that forced Belcher to dig into his bench during crunch time.
“They would have loved to have been out there, but we’ve obviously got to consider their health and make sure they’re OK. Thankfully, our juniors stepped up,” Belcher said.
After Amos forced a turnover at mid-court and found junior Thalia Merritt for a tying layup at 42-42 with 1:45 to go, Plano held East scoreless the rest of the way — pulling ahead for good on free throws by Brannon and junior Khuyler Hardy to subdue a hard-nosed effort from the Lady Panthers.
“Plano East is a very good, well-coached program and those young ladies gave their hearts and souls. This is how it always is when we play each other,” Belcher said.
Belcher and the Lady Wildcats learned that all too well early on, as East drew first blood on a last-second 3-pointer from freshman Idara Udo for a 13-7 lead after one quarter. The Lady Panthers’ trapping press defense had some more success in the second quarter, opening up a 24-14 advantage and aiding a defensive clinic — cutting off driving lanes and forcing Plano into a myriad of low-percentage looks from the field.
Amos and Udo led the way with eight points apiece for the Lady Panthers, who had a four-game winning streak snapped and dropped into a tie for third place in 9-6A at 6-4 with McKinney. Plano, meanwhile, got additional big nights from Murphy-Sowers (eight points) and Brannon (seven) while inching closer to a district championship.
“We prepare for every game like it’s our last one. We were fortunate to win this one and it puts us in a good position in the district race,” Belcher said. “Our young ladies play the same way they practice everyday. I’m really proud of them.”
The Lady Wildcats will enjoy a bye on Tuesday, not scheduled to return to action until 7:30 p.m. Friday at McKinney Boyd, while East looks to snap its third-place gridlock in a 6 p.m. Tuesday scrap at McKinney.