Defense keys South girls' strong start

Fans can't help but notice a difference this season in South Gwinnett's girls basketball team.

Graduation took five seniors -- three now playing at the college level -- off a state tournament team and forced third-year head coach Jaime Kruppa to revamp her lineup this season.

There's no Tina Odume (Auburn-Montgomery), Kiara Baker (Tusculum) or Bria Bankston (Reinhardt), but the Comets are finding a way to get it done.

After Tuesday night's 42-40 win over defending Region 8-AAAAA champion Brookwood, South is 10-5 overall and 6-2 in the region. It's a solid start for a completely new group that is currently tied for second in the region behind unbeaten Parkview.

"We've been doing OK," Kruppa said. "We've managed to win some close games lately. ... There's a lot of good competition and a lot of close games in our region this year, which makes it exciting."

South is one team from a group chasing region favorite Parkview that also includes Central Gwinnett, Archer and Brookwood. The Comets remained tied with Central (though Central won in their first head-to-head meeting with South earlier this season) in second place thanks to Tuesday night's win over Brookwood.

Jashawna Johnson hit a runner with less than 10 seconds left for the game-winner, completing South's comeback from a 20-12 halftime deficit. Alysia Johnson had nine points in the second-half rally and Yvonna Dunkley led the way with 20 points, seven rebounds and seven steals.

The late surge also was built around defense, which has been the theme all season for the Comets. They held Brookwood to six third-quarter points, sparking the comeback.

South's most consistent offensive threats have been Tiffany Jenkins (7.7 points, 6.8 rebounds) and Samantha McCombs (7.7 points), but with no player even close to averaging double figures in scoring, holding the opponent to a low-scoring game is a must.

"We're trying to focus on our defense, keeping teams below a certain point (40 points or below)," said Kruppa, a South grad and former player at Georgia Tech. "That gives us a better chance to win. We're not going to be a high-scoring team. We're just not this year. So we're going to have to focus on defense.

"We take a lot of pride in our defense. We try to get steals and limit teams ton one shot."

The formula has worked well through the midway point of the region schedule. If that trend continues, South could match its impressive finish last season.

The Comets won 13 of 16 games during a late-season stretch that included an upset of then-No. 1 Brookwood and finished 19-12 as a state playoff team.

"We really hit our stride last year at this point," Kruppa said. "We were able to beat Brookwood and get some momentum going into the state tournament. I'm hopeful that we can do that again."