High School Basketball

‘You better step on our throat.’ Clark County won’t go down without a fight in Sweet Sixteen.

Clark County’s Maleha Bell, left, and Elizabethtown’s Whitney Hay battled for a loose ball during their Sweet Sixteen quarterfinal game at Northern Kentucky University last season.
Clark County’s Maleha Bell, left, and Elizabethtown’s Whitney Hay battled for a loose ball during their Sweet Sixteen quarterfinal game at Northern Kentucky University last season.

It was anything but pretty, but it didn’t lack for excitement.

Points were hard to come by when Clark County and Elizabethtown faced off in the quarterfinals of the 57th St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen state basketball tournament on Friday; the teams fought to a 7-7 stalemate at the end of the first quarter. But three quarters, three clutch plays and a four-minute overtime period later, Clark County emerged with a gutty 42-35 victory and a berth in Saturday’s semifinals.

The first of those plays came as the Cardinals trailed 31-28 with less than a minute to play in regulation. After a defender cut off her drive to the basket, Maleaha Bell found Jasmine Flowers at the top of the key. Flowers rose up and nailed a three-pointer to tie the game with 36 seconds to go.

“That definitely wasn’t the play we drew up,” said Cardinals Coach Robbie Graham. “It wasn’t a great coaching call, I can tell you that. It was just two kids making plays.”

Moments later Kennedy Igo saved the day on defense. As Elizabethtown senior Karson Knight cut toward the basket, Igo raced down the baseline from the wing and swatted Knight’s shot at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.

“I just knew I had to get a stop,” said Igo. “The game was on the line.”

Clark County’s Kennedy Igo (14) reacted after blocking a shot against Elizabethtown last season. Igo, voted by coaches as one of the state’s top 10 players, helps lead a Cardinals squad ranked No. 2 in the preseason. Gary Landers

With less than three minutes to play in the extra frame Shamaya Behanan gave Clark County its third lead of the game; one it would never relinquish.

Behanan stole an inbounds pass then drew a foul as she raced toward front court. She stepped to the free-throw line and nailed both ends of a one-and-one to put the Cardinals ahead 33-31.

“How do you describe that? Tremendous,” Graham said of Behanan’s big sequence. “Just a huge six seconds there. She’s got long arms and she’s very active. She made a heck of a play.”

Behanan was the last person Elizabethtown wanted to send to the charity stripe; with the go-ahead freebies she improved to 13-for-13 from the line through the tournament’s first two rounds.

Clark County made nine of 10 foul shots inside the final three minutes to seal the win.

“Obviously it wasn’t a pretty game at all, it was one of those where things just weren’t always going right,” Graham said. “But we made some plays ... we wanted to make sure we played a tough, hard-nosed game for 32 minutes. And it actually ended up being 36 minutes; a little longer than we wanted to play.”

Clark County fans cheered their team in overtime against Elizabethtown during their Sweet Sixteen quarterfinal at Northern Kentucky University on Friday. Gary Landers

Graham said the Cardinals never despaired despite a rough first half.

“We had eight turnovers, we’re even on rebounds, we shoot 16 percent and we’re down five,” he said. “We talk about it all the time; when you’ve got us down you better step on our throat, don’t give us a chance. And they left that window open.”

Igo led the Cardinals with 11 points, making all eight of her free throws.

Knight nearly willed Elizabethtown to the win, scoring a game-high 15 points and grabbing five rebounds.

“Karson was phenomenal today,” Elizabethtown Coach Donnie Swiney said. “She tried to put us on her back. She went out with her last game the way I expected her to.”

Josh Sullivan: 859-231-3225, @sullyjosh

Girls’ Sweet Sixteen

Saturday’s semifinals at NKU

6:30 p.m.: Mercer County vs. Clark County

8 p.m.: Ryle-Mercy winner vs. Boyd County-Manual winner

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