Coach Steve Helton knows exactly what to say and exactly how to say it to draw the ire of star guard Kristen Stainback.
The Scott County junior, who was relatively invisible in the first half Wednesday night against Paul Laurence Dunbar, heard all about her deficiencies at halftime.
"I challenged her pretty good," Helton said. "I thought, early she allowed Dunbar to control her. She let the game pass her by."
In the second half, it was Stainback passing everyone else by. The junior scored 17 of her game-high 25 points after halftime to help the No. 16 Cardinals win 68-63 on the road against No. 20 Dunbar.
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"He knows how to get under my skin pretty good," Stainback said of Helton. "In the second half, I just wanted to come out and prove him wrong. I wanted to step up for my team."
Helton must have challenged her even more after the third quarter because she scored 11 straight at a pivotal time in the final period.
The Bulldogs had regained the lead 54-51 on three straight points by senior standout Ebony Rowe before Stainback put the Cardinals back up again with a layup midway through her own 11-3 run.
"When it came down to crunch time, she stepped up, and that's what big-time players do," Helton said.
After Stainback was finished, the Cardinals led 62-54, but Dunbar wouldn't go away. Several times during the game, the Bulldogs came back from as many as 10 points down to keep it interesting.
"We laid down," Cards senior Madisen Webb said. "We have a big problem with that. We'll make a run and then relax. What we need to do is keep going and play harder."
Down eight points with 2:10 to go, the Bulldogs used a 9-2 run to get within a point with six seconds to play, but an intentional foul called against Dunbar ended the spree and allowed the Cards to win it.
"Both teams made plays throughout the game — made some good runs — I'm just happy we made that last run and get to sneak out of town with a win," Helton said.
Junior guard Christin Haney had four points in that final run for Dunbar.
Haney, barely back from her state tournament run with the volleyball team, looked as though she was already in mid-season form, scoring a team-high 22 points. The speedy junior guard also had five assists and three steals.
Rowe, a Middle Tennessee State signee, had 19 points, 26 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals for the Bulldogs (0-1).
But against the Cardinals' bigger guards, Dunbar's young backcourt had trouble getting Rowe the ball in the second half, during which she scored only six points.
"We had some people we really had to rely on to play heavy minutes start to wear down in the fourth quarter," Coach Mike Sowers said.
Overall, though, the Dunbar coach was pleased with his team's effort.
"We always want to win but, if this is our measuring stick for early in the year, we've definitely got something to build on in a positive way."
Scott Co. 68, Paul Dunbar 63
SCOTT CO. (1-0) — Jackson 2, Stainback 25, McKee 4, Webb 12, McKenzie 12, Conrad 9, Clay 2, Guyn 2.
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR (0-1) — Ch. Haney 22, Rowe 19, McIntosh 6, Co. Haney 5, Parks 1, Muhammad 5, Fender 6.
Scott Co. 17 14 14 23 —68
Paul Dunbar 11 19 18 15 —63