Going into the girls' 43rd District finals Friday night, the question was, could Paul Laurence Dunbar match the 26-point beat-down it put on Lexington Catholic a month earlier?
It didn't take No. 14 Dunbar long to provide an emphatic answer as it rolled to a 28-point halftime lead in Lexington Catholic's gym on its way to a 71-46 victory over the No. 17 Knights.
Dunbar celebrated its first district title since 2003 and will go into next week's 11th Region tournament in Richmond as one of the favorites.
"These girls have worked so hard, they deserve it," said first-year Bulldogs coach Sarah Van Horn. "We challenge them every day to keep getting better, and they've started buying into doing the little things that make championship teams."
Dunbar did everything right against Lexington Catholic. It shot well, was terrific on defense and kept its focus for most of the 32 minutes.
Nobody was more focused than Morgan McEldowney, the only senior in the Bulldogs' starting lineup. She was 6-for-6 from three-point range and had 22 points and five rebounds.
"It's a mental thing with me," she said of her shooting touch. "If I see one go in ... it's about confidence."
Dunbar's junior guard tandem of Kierra Muhammad and Jordin Fender used their quickness to cause chaos for Lexington Catholic on both ends of the floor.
Muhammad had 10 points, four steals and three assists. Fender had seven points, six steals, three assists and two blocked shots. Indya Raglin came off the bench to get 10 points.
The Bulldogs also had an inside presence. Lakeena Parks, a 5-foot-10 junior, had 10 points and four rebounds, and 6-1 sophomore Brooke Todd had eight points and 10 rebounds.
"That's what makes us so dangerous," Van Horn said. "We don't have just one scorer, or one ball handler, or one post player. We're so versatile. We have a lot of kids who can do a lot of things."
The main thing the Bulldogs do is play non-stop man-to-man pressure defense. It never let Lexington Catholic find a rhythm,
Knights Coach Chelsea Chowning said the tone was set early when Dunbar raced to a 21-7 first-quarter lead.
"It was not our night," she said. "Dunbar played extremely well. Whichever team dictated the tempo was going to win, and they did that early."
Octavia Wilson led Lexington Catholic with 17 points and three assists. Alex Botkin had seven points and six rebounds. Bonnie Rhule also had seven points.
Both teams advance to next week's region tournament. "That's the good thing," Chowning said. "We're hoping we can bounce back and have a better showing next week."
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR (25-6) — McEldowney 7-10 2-3 22, Parks 5-8 0-0 10, Todd 4-5 0-0 8, Fender 3-10 1-1 7, Muhammad 4-6 2-3 10, Raglin 4-6 2-2 10, Jackson 2-4 0-2 4, Edwards 0-3 0-0 0, Brown 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-53 7-11 71.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (20-11) — Botkin 3-12 1-2 7, Johns 1-4 1-2 3, Walton 1-3 2-2 5, Rhule 2-3 2-2 7, Wilson 5-11 5-6 17, Blake 1-6 0-2 2, Browning 0-1 0-1 0, Cawood 1-4 3-3 5, Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Pippen 0-1 0-0 0, Gadberry 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-47 14-20 46.
Paul Dunbar 21 25 11 14—71
Lexington Catholic 7 11 18 10—46
All-tournament team: Morgan McEldowney (MVP), Kierra Muhammad and Jordin Fender (Dunbar); Alex Botkin and Octavia Wilson (LexCath); Kristen Jacob (LCA); Ashanti Thomas (Lafayette); Peyton Hisel (Tates Creek).