For the second year in a row, 11th Region champion Scott County came in as one of the favorites to win the state tournament. But last year, that didn’t work out so well.
This year’s team never talked about it, according to Coach Steve Helton, but his players admitted last year’s shocking first-round upset was on their minds.
“We worked so hard to get to this moment. I think last year did play a factor, because we wanted to prove that we deserve to be here,” said senior Maaliya Owens, who scored 30 points Wednesday in an 87-61 opening-round rout of Knott County Central in the 58th KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena. “Since the last game (at state) was such a shock, we knew we needed to come out and show all the hard work that we put in and just play harder and play as a team.”
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After shaking off some nerves and getting acquainted with Rupp Arena, Scott County settled down and did what it does best Wednesday: score in bunches and bury opponents.
And they did so thanks in large part to going 12-for-28 from the three-point line, including six makes from Owens and four from Morgan DeFoor, who finished with 21 points.
“We’re starting to see why UK shoots the ball so well here.” Helton said. “Gosh, these rims are (forgiving) — We’ll come out and shoot 20 percent next game, but, man, I tell you it was good to see us put the ball in the hole early.”
Knott County kept close for a while and got the Cardinals’ starting center, Malea Williams in foul trouble with two in the first three minutes forcing her out of the game for the rest of the half. Knott’s Keara Mullins hit a three-pointer and a pair of free throws to help the Lady Patriots take a 10-4 lead with 3:21 in the first period.
But from there, it was all Scott County.
The Cardinals closed the quarter on a 17-2 run kick-started by back-to-back threes from DeFoor and Owens.
“We had to give up something, and we wanted to make them jump shooters.” Knott County Coach Jeff Honeycutt said. “And we just picked the wrong day, because they made everything they shot.”
As Scott County heated up, Knott went cold, making just nine of 33 shots in the first half as Scott County stretched a 21-12 first quarter lead to 47-29 at the half. Owens put in three more threes in that span, while DeFoor added another.
Scott County’s Juliette Smith added 14 points. Knott County’s Jada Higgins had 18 points, Keara Mullins added 13 and Emily Williams had 11.
Scott County (34-1) advances to face Owensboro Catholic, who defeated Bethlehem 53-47 in Wednesday’s second game. That quarterfinal will tip at noon Friday.
Knott County Central finished the season 25-8, having won the program’s third consecutive 14th Region title.
What: Girls’ high school basketball state tournament
When: Wednesday through Sunday
Where: Rupp Arena
Radio: All games on WWRW-FM 105.5 in Lexington and on numerous stations across the state
Video livestream: All games available on NFHSNetwork.com (subscription required)
Tickets: $17-$21 (Available at Rupp Arena Box Office or online at Ticketmaster.com or KHSAA.org)