NORCROSS — Wesleyan swarmed the Calhoun Yellow Jackets with its patented full-court press and rolled into the quarterfinals of the girls Class AA state basketball playoffs Monday.
Team defense and effort suffocated Calhoun in the first half and the Wolves looked like a six-time defending champion in a 84-48 victory at Yancey Gymnasium. Wesleyan’s depth overwhelmed Calhoun with five players in double figures and big contributions off the bench.
“I do want to see us box out better,” head coach Jan Azar said. “We tend to jump around for the ball and we need to get a body on someone. But I thought we did a really good job hustling and we did a great job penetrating their zone, not settling for outside shots.
“I was just pleased with our effort. I was pleased with everyone that went in the game. They played hard. They played good team basketball and that’s what we’re going to try to build on.”
The young Wolves (26-3) have struggled with consistency this season, but were sparked by a thrilling overtime defeat of rival GAC in the Region 6-AA title game last week. They dominated Union County in the first round and were a force to be reckoned with against Calhoun. Now Wesleyan travels to Jefferson on Wednesday.
“After the GAC game, it really pulled us together as a team,” Keevana Edwards said. “Coach Azar talked to Landyn (Duley) and I, as the seniors, about how we need to be leaders on the court. After that big win, everything just fell into place on the court.
“It’s definitely coming together now. Usually for Wesleyan basketball, we really start to come together in January. It just took a little bit longer this year because we’re so much younger. The consistency is starting to come, the team chemistry is starting to come and that’s really helped us.”
Edwards and Duley finished with 10 points each. Nikki McDonald had a huge second half and led Wesleyan with 14 points. Off the bench Natalie Armstrong had eight points, while Jameson Kavel and Devyn Lowe combined for 10.
Mikayla Coombs, the silky smooth freshman sensation, had 11 of her 13 points in the first half as the Wolves raced out to a 40-19 lead. Cairo Booker dropped in all 12 of her points before the break.
“We played a lot of people, which wore them out a little bit,” Azar said. “And we switched up our presses some, which I think helped.
“Everybody that went in was ready to play. We’ve got a lot of young players so whether they get in there for one minute or 10 minutes, we need them to know what’s going on and be ready to switch our presses up.”
Wesleyan burst out of the gate, running up an 11-2 lead before Calhoun got its first field goal. Nearly half those points came off forced turnovers.
The Yellow Jackets managed to keep the deficit under double digits in the first quarter before fouls mounted. Halfway through the second quarter, with the Wolves beginning to creep away on series of trips to the free-throw line, Coombs found Duley at the corner with an inside-out pass. Duley knocked down the quick shot for a 31-13 lead.
Wesleyan held Calhoun to seven points in the second quarter and though things loosened up a bit after halftime, the game was not in doubt.
“Our coaches do such a good job finding the small things we need to work on,” Edwards said. “The two most important things were our press, to make sure we were getting the right traps and people weren’t throwing it long on us, and getting second opportunities.
“We really keyed in on those things in practice and I think that made a huge difference at game time.”