The recipe for success is simple for longtime Star City girls basketball Coach Becky Yarbrough.
"I'm not in this new era where offense wins," said Yarbrough, who's in her 29th year at the Lincoln County school. "I'm still in that old school where defense wins championships, and that's certainly what's carried us this year."
That philosophy has made Yarbrough's Lady Bulldogs one of the state's best programs during her tenure.
Star City (22-0, 8-0 4A-8) is the only girls team in Arkansas that hasn't been beaten this year, and Yarbrough said defense is the biggest reason why.
"We struggle to score sometimes," she said. "We're not very big, but we've got some speed, and that's helped on the defensive end. It's allowed us to get some easy baskets off steals, and that's big."
The Lady Bulldogs allow 33.9 points per game, and they've been especially tough on 4A-8 conference foes. Through eight league games, Star City has given up 30.6 ppg. In their past two contests against Hamburg and Monticello, the Lady Bulldogs have given up 36 points total.
Star City's prowess on defense doesn't mean its devoid of talent on offense. Juniors Janiya Johnson and Breanna Grayson are both scoring in double figures.
"Janiya handles the ball, but it's unbelievable how fast she gets down the floor, especially in transition," Yarbrough stated. "And Breanna is a beast on the boards. She's not very tall, but she's a very strong kid. She gets 7-8 rebounds a game, too."
Yarbrough said Star City's lack of size is a bit of a blessing in disguise.
"We're more versatile," she said. "Not being as big as we've been in the past gives us a little more flexibility on certain things. Of course, playing bigger teams can be a challenge, but we've made up for it, and it all comes back to defense.
"We're able to put more pressure on the ball. When we do that and get that back-side help, we're fine. But it all starts with our defense."
Arrows make amends
Lavaca looked in the mirror for motivation this season.
"When you go from November all the way through February, you try to get better every game," Lavaca Coach Renner Reed said. "We've won quite a bit, but we want to get better and make a postseason run. We got upset last year in regionals, and we wanted to grow from that.
"So we've had great attitudes about this year from the start. Because of that, coaching has been very easy for me."
The Golden Arrows lost 60-59 in double overtime to Yellville-Summit last season, which cost them a spot in the state tournament. This season, Lavaca is 25-3, undefeated in 2A-4 action and has won 10 games in a row.
"We've got a lot of depth at numerous positions, and our M.O. has been defense," Reed said. "The guys know their roles, and they do a very good job of being coached and playing hard."
Reed said his team is facing a bit of adversity after leading scorer Matt Melton recently went down with a high ankle sprain. The 6-2 senior guard is out for the foreseeable future, but Reed said he's hopeful to get him back for the postseason.
"We've got guys like Mark Miller [6-4 senior] who stepped up and scored some big buckets the last game for us, and Jayger Wagner [5-8 senior], a shooting guard who's got a motor. The guys know how to win, they know how to compete, but it helps to have depth, especially right now."
Defensive green light
There are several reasons Charleston hasn't lost a game in nearly two months.
"Right now, we're playing the best we played all season," Charleston Coach Jason Rucker said. "Everybody is contributing, and our rhythm is very good. Multiple kids are scoring on a nightly basis, and that makes a big difference."
The Lady Tigers (20-2, 11-0 3A-1 West) are on a 14-game winning streak since they dropped a 68-56 decision at Lake Hamilton on Dec. 13. Charleston has won eight of its 11 league matchups by at least 15 points, and holds a two-game lead over second-place Elkins with three games to go in the regular season.
Charleston, ranked No. 2 in Class 3A by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, returns all five starters from the team that lost to Atkins in last year's Class 3A state semifinals. That team -- led by then-junior guards Payton Rucker and Baylee King -- was perimeter-oriented, but Jason Rucker noted that several sophomores have provided a big boost inside this year.
Still, offense isn't what the Lady Tigers count on.
"For 15 years, we've always hung our hat on defense, and this year is no exception," Jason Rucker said. "We're allowing 32 points per game. The kids have bought into that mindset.
"They know that that's what we're going to preach, and they know if they play defense, they get the freedom on the other end to shoot it."
Learning to win
Micah Marsh knows a thing or two about winning, and now the Episcopal Collegiate Lady Wildcats do, too.
"These girls have really put it into fast-forward," said Marsh, who guided the Episcopal Collegiate boys team to back-to-back state championships in 2014 and 2015. "We turned a corner last year, but this year, they believe they can compete, and they're showing it out there on the court."
The Lady Wildcats won 13 games in the three seasons prior to Marsh taking over at the start of last season. He led the team to 14-14 mark and a third-place finish in the 3A-5 in his first year. This season, Episcopal Collegiate is 17-6 and a game behind first-place Central Arkansas Christian. The Lady Wildcats won their seventh game in a row Tuesday when it upset CAC 39-32 at home.
"We changed the culture a little, and they're having fun," Marsh said. "They enjoy playing defense, they enjoy playing for each other. Last year, they learned from the wins and the losses, and that's helped because they've got a different mindset now."
LR HALL BOYS
Flu hits hard
Little Rock Hall was scheduled to host Watson Chapel tonight in a 5A-Central Conference game, but according to Warriors Coach Jon Coleman, the matchup has been rescheduled for Feb. 28.
The flu has hit several members of Hall's team, and after alerting Watson Chapel of the situation, Coleman said the Wildcats agreed to move the game.
Hall (9-8, 3-4) beat Watson Chapel (5-15, 1-6) 53-32 on Jan. 14.
Sports on 02/07/2020
Print Headline: Star City's defense a constant