High School Basketball

Manual’s giant-killers do it again, knocking off Scott County in Sweet Sixteen

Manual’s Nila Blackford, left, and Scott County’s Juliette Smith fought for a rebound Thursday.
Manual’s Nila Blackford, left, and Scott County’s Juliette Smith fought for a rebound Thursday.

If you’re running into possibly the hottest team in the state, it’s not a good day to have one of your worst games of the season.

Scott County (31-3) found that out Thursday as it ran into the buzz saw Manual has become en route to the St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen. The Crimson extended its win streak to 10 games in a dominating 65-50 first-round win.

“It seemed like we were out of sync from the very beginning,” Scott County Coach Steve Helton said. “Never did get into the flow of the game offensively or defensively. We played very uncharacteristically of what we did all season long … We just flat out didn’t handle the adversity very well today.”

Manual (22-8) has become adept at dishing out adversity, knocking out one of the best teams in the state in Sacred Heart last week in the 7th Region finals and 11th Region champ Scott County on Thursday. The Crimson suffered blowout losses to both of those opponents earlier in the season.

“It’s just a testament to these kids next to me and the ones in the locker room,” Manual Coach Jeff Sparks said. “They figured out that if we want to get serious about wanting to do something here it’s going to be a collective effort or we’re going to go home.”

That effort manifested itself in winning the battle of the boards 44-35, including a 15-9 edge on the offensive glass and forcing Scott County to play at its pace instead of letting the Cards get into their fast break and press.

Scott County also likes to shoot the three, attempting 728 during the regular season and making 34.1 percent. Thursday, the Cardinals went just 3-for-17. Peyton Riddle, the team’s leading scorer and three-point shooter was held to 13 points and 1-for-6 from three-point range. She shot better than 40 percent from three on the season.

“We just did a much better job defending,” Sparks said. “We really pressed up on them today, trying to take those looks away.”

Scott County players Maaliya Owens (11), Peyton Riddle (22) and Zakiyia Holt (21) left the court after their loss to Manual at Highland Heights on Thursday. Gary Landers

Free throws by Maaliya Owens capped a 6-0 run in the second quarter that got the Cardinals within 16-15 with three minutes until the break. But Manual answered with a 10-4 run, punctuated emphatically by Jaela Johnson’s three-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer for a 26-19 advantage. .

From there, Manual continued to frustrate Scott County, playing tough through the Cardinals’ screens and extending the lead to 15, which would become the final margin.

“They are so long and athletic, and they were very physical with our wings today,” Helton said. “There was no space being given.”

Johnson led all scorers with 23 points, going 3-for-6 from three-point range. Nila Blackford contributed 11 points and 11 rebounds.

For Scott County’s Helton, Manual looked like a different team from the one the Cardinals beat 76-53 in Louisville on Jan. 11.

“They’re playing with purpose,” Helton said. “Their first five are playing well together and they’re making an extra pass.

“Tonight, they had something to prove … You talk about playing right at the right time of year? That’s for real. And they’re playing with confidence now. … Our kids battled, but it just wasn’t in the cards today.”

Girls’ Sweet Sixteen

When: Wednesday through Sunday

Where: BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University

At stake: Girls’ state high school basketball championship

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