NORTH LITTLE ROCK -- Fort Smith Northside girls coach Rickey Smith used the right strategy to get back into the Class 7A State Tournament semifinal game Saturday night.
Smith had his Lady Bears foul Conway junior Asiyah Smith, who just missed two free throws moments earlier, and she missed the front end of the one-and-one with 2 minutes, 19 seconds remaining.
CONWAY 54, FORT SMITH NORTHSIDE 43
FS Northside (26-4): S. Bershers 11, Wolfenbarger 10, Mays 9, T. Bershers 5, Carey 5, Tampus 2, Green 1.
Conway (27-3): Smith 20, Yelder 18, Nolen 7, Pickens 3, Roetzel 3, Netherlain 3.
There was just one problem. Cardrina Nolen slipped around her defender at the free-throw lane to grab the rebound and was fouled, and she helped Conway reach the state championship game with a 54-43 victory in Charging Wildcat Arena. Nolen hit five of six free throws over the last 2:17 to clinch the win for the Lady Wampus Cats (27-3), who will play North Little Rock in the championship game at Hot Springs.
"We talked so much about rebounding," Conway coach Ashley Nance said. "I was probably barking at them in August 'if we're going to be any good, we have to rebound and we have to make shots with our size.' Cardrina has a big frame, but she's only about 5-10 on a good day.
"I was so pleased she played the whole game. She's got a great shot and she's a good inside role player. She doesn't try to do too much, but when she does get it she knows what to do with it."
Conway had a 37-26 lead after Myla Yelder's two free throws with 2:04 left in the third quarter when Northside (26-4) made its run behind Jersey Wolfenbarger. The freshman hit eight straight points to close out the third quarter and pull the Lady Bears within 37-34, then Tracey Bershers hit a bucket to make it a one-point game to start the fourth quarter.
Both teams then traded buckets before Conway went with the one-two punch of Smith and Yelder. Smith scored the next five points to give the Lady Cats some breathing room, then Yelder followed two Sara Bershers free throws with four straight points and made it a 48-40 game with 3:09 left to play.
"We may have went at them too quick with our press," Smith said. "Conway shot the ball well and had us rattled all night, and we never settled down. It's the first time to play at this level for a lot of these kids, and it's tough.
"It just wasn't our night, and Conway was a little bit better than us. We missed four or five shots right under the basket that could have made it a ball game. We cut it down to six and they miss two free throws, and we didn't block out. We just never could get the lead, and I thought if we could ever get the lead we could put some pressure on them."
Smith finished with 20 points and Yelder added 18 for Conway, which had split its games with Northside during the regular season. Sara Bershers led Northside with 11 points, while Wolfenbarger finished with 10, all in the third quarter.
North Little Rock 77, Little Rock Central 38
North Little Rock jumped out to a 23-6 lead in the first quarter and kept pulling away from Central as the host team reached the championship game for a second consecutive season.
De'Myla Brown had 23 points for the Lady Charging Wildcats (25-4), who led 39-19 at halftime and 62-34 after three quarters, while Yo'Myris Morris added 15 and Amber Hawkinson chipped in 12. Erynn Barnum had 13 points and Ariyanna Hall 12 for Central (18-10).
Preps Basketball on 03/04/2018
Print Headline: Conway slips away from Northside, reaches title game