LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY — A sign of a good team is finding a way to excel when the thing it does best isn’t working.
The Academy Lady Bees on Tuesday afternoon struggled to hit 3-point shots and failed to make a big impact with their full-court trapping defense, but they still took care of business with a 44-32 win over the Salado Lady Eagles in the teams’ last game before Thanksgiving.
“You don’t know what it is,” Academy coach Brian Pursche said of the struggles. “Is it just because we got finished playing five games in a tournament? Is it because it’s the holiday season and they are ready for turkey?
“If you live by the outside shot, you are going to have those nights, and we had one of those nights. The girls found a way to still win. Even though it was an ugly win, it was a win.”
Academy junior guard Kamryn Mraz opened the game with a 3-pointer, but the Lady Bees (6-2) — ranked No. 1 in Class 3A — missed their next six tries from beyond the arc and were 2-for-17 for the game, attempting just two in the second half.
“I think we were all struggling from behind the line,” said Mraz, who was 1-for-8 from 3-point range but led all scorers with 16 points. “Pursche was telling us we had to be more patient on offense, find good looks because (Salado) was going to jump our passes and give us good looks at the basket. So that’s what we did.”
Academy led just 23-20 at halftime and turned its focus to the inside after intermission.
Mraz hit a runner in the lane for the first basket of the second half, and post Jenna Brazeal drew fouls on two early possessions as the Lady Bees worked the ball inside. Brazeal’s four free throws, the runner by Mraz and a fast-break basket by Hannah Mauldin gave Academy a 31-20 lead just over 3 minutes into the half.
“I think it was huge,” Salado coach Diane Konarik said of Academy’s 8-0 surge to start the third quarter. “I told the girls I can remember two little instances we kind of panicked. It swung the momentum of the game their way.”
Up to that point, the Lady Eagles (1-5) had done an admirable job breaking through Academy’s press and forcing the Lady Bees to take tough shots.
“We told them if you just relax, get the ball to middle sideline like we did, we can break the press,” Konarik said. “And we got them out of the press, which is a huge compliment for our girls because he presses everybody.”
Pursche agreed: “I have to give Salado credit. They dictated the pace of the game. Our pressure didn’t do anything to them. They took care of the ball, made it a half-court game and made us grind it out.”
Salado struggled to hit its shots, though, and Academy won the battle on the boards. Brazeal hauled in 11 rebounds — most of them in the second half.
“(Defense) won the game for us,” Brazeal said. “We are not really used to not having our outside shots not fall, but we all have off games. So we had to make adjustments and we pulled it off by mainly playing a defensive game.”
Brazeal finished with 13 points and teammate Kenidi White added 10. Salado was led by Sarah Kelarek’s nine points and Taylor Lowrance’s eight.