Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Dacula's Joni Weatherspoon, left, and Central Gwinnett's Nia Hardy (14) battle for a loose ball during Tuesday's game in the Jared Cook Classic at North Gwinnett.
SUWANEE --Familiarity was pretty high in Wednesday afternoon's girls basketball semifinal at the Jared Cook Holiday Classic.
Central Gwinnett coach Jason Adams, a Dacula grad himself, was coaching against a friend in Dacula girls coach Travis Young, who Adams also coached for a season when Young played at Dacula. Even their families know each other well -- Young's mother teaches with Adams' wife.
But the knowledge of each other didn't stop at the coaches.
Both Central and Dacula are Region 8-AAAAA teams who will battle twice more this season in region play, so the players already know each other pretty well. They'll be acquainted even more before this season's done.
Round 1 in that series went to Central, which again rode its stout defense to a 47-31 victory that sent the Black Knights into today's Jared Cook title game against host North Gwinnett.
"Dacula, it's always a battle with them," Adams said. "I think their defense can make us play a little bit ugly at times. It's always a tough game with Dacula. Our girls know you can't just show up against a region opponent. You have to work to get a win."
Central (4-6) has struggled at times to score this season, which was the case here and there against Dacula (4-7). Taja Latimore had 15 points (and 10 rebounds), with Caryn Ivey and freshman Alexandra Frazier adding 10 points each, but it wasn't all smooth on the offense end for the victors.
The Black Knights had 18 turnovers, including eight in the third quarter, and made just 1 of 7 field goals in the fourth quarter.
"We gutted out a win," Adams said. "Our shot selection the last two games, really our last five games, has been much better. That's made a big difference.
"We try to hang our hat on our defense, but we have confidence our offense will come around."
Frazier scored six of her points in the second quarter when the Black Knights took control. They made 5 of 9 field goals in the quarter, taking a 27-17 lead into halftime.
Central then scored the first seven points of the third quarter and Dacula never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.
The Falcons were led by 14 points and 12 rebounds from Joni Weatherspoon, while reserve Anazjah Mayes scored seven points. But they struggled against Central's defensive pressure, shooting 27.9 percent overall (12-for-43). They made just 4 of 20 shots (20 percent) in the second and third quarters.
Central, which won North's holiday tournament in 2006, faces a much tougher test in the championship game. The host Bulldogs are ranked eighth in Class AAAAA.
"If we're going to compete for a region title and compete at the state level, you have to play with the best teams in the state and North's one of the best teams in the state," Adams said.