Defense. Rebounding. Free-throw shooting.
Those are the three keys to advancing in post-season basketball, according to Paul Laurence Dunbar girls' coach Sarah Bridenbaugh.
Host Dunbar did well in all three categories in the 43rd District semifinals Tuesday night, which explains the Bulldogs' 52-41 victory over Lexington Catholic.
Brooke Todd, a 6-foot-2 senior, led Dunbar with 12 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. Shakeema Jackson, a 5-4 senior guard, also had 12 points.
Senior guard Ezzy Ighodaro added 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists and clutch free throw shooting in the closing minutes.
Dunbar's defense limited Lexington Catholic to 25.5 percent shooting (13-for-51, including 3-for-19 on threes). The Bulldogs also won the battle of the boards, 39-33.
How much did Dunbar's defense have to do with the Knights' poor shooting?
"We did a lot of scouting, so our girls were really prepared to play against what they were offering on offense," Bridenbaugh said.
Knights Coach Scott True wouldn't argue.
"The two games we've played here we've shot a combined 21 percent," he said. "Dunbar's length and athleticism had a lot to do with that. But we also missed a lot of open looks and layups."
Lexington Catholic missed its first 10 shots and fell behind 11-0.
"Those first two minutes broke our back," True said.
The Knights got to within five points late in the first quarter before the gap widened to 15 early in the second half. Dunbar's lead never shrank below eight the rest of the night.
Rachel Blake led Lexington Catholic with 15 points and eight rebounds. Bailey Browning had eight points, five rebounds and four assists. Suzanne Miller added seven points.
Dunbar's victory, its seventh in a row over the Knights, puts the Bulldogs in Friday's district finals. It also earns them a spot in the 11th Region tournament for the third year in a row.
Todd is happy about that.
"One of my favorite memories in high school is going to the state tournament my sophomore year," she said. "Going to the region means we get a chance to show we can play with the top teams in the state again.
"And it means extra time with my teammates, who are like my family. I don't want that to end."
Paul Dunbar 52, Lexington Catholic 41
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (17-12) — Blake 15, Browning 8, Miller 7, Lynch 5, Pippen 6.
PAUL DUNBAR (23-6) — Todd 12, Jackson 12, Ighodaro 11, Armstrong 6, Rosen 7, Marrow 4.
Lexington Catholic 8 8 12 13—41
Paul Dunbar 15 14 10 13—52