There's no such thing as a guaranteed victory at tournament time, as Paul Laurence Dunbar's girls found out Tuesday night.
Four weeks after Dunbar demolished Lafayette by 38 points, they met again in the 43rd District high school basketball semifinals. The rematch in no way resembled that earlier game, which the Bulldogs led by 30 at the half.
This time around, Lafayette led No. 13 Dunbar 23-19 at the half, and the underdogs were still in front 32-30 late in the third quarter. But Dunbar's defense finally took down the Generals and the favorites escaped with a 56-49 victory at Lexington Catholic.
First-year Bulldogs coach Sarah Van Horn said she tried to warn her team what was coming.
"I tried to tell the girls that tournament games are nothing like the regular season."
Meanwhile, Lafayette Coach Allison Denton said she had told her players that "it's a brand new season and anything can happen."
It almost did, but Dunbar's defense disrupted the Generals down the stretch, and the Bulldogs did a much better job taking care of the ball themselves. They committed only three turnovers in the second half.
"Give credit to Lafayette," Van Horn said. "They took us out of our element. They made us slow it down and get in a halfcourt game.
"But I have to credit my kids for not quitting when all odds were against them."
Kierra Muhammad was Dunbar's catalyst. The 5-foot-4 junior guard had 17 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists.
Muhammad said the Bulldogs were "just a little bit worried" when they fell behind, "but our team is strong. We came out and played harder in the second half, and I knew we had it because we have heart."
Van Horn praised Muhammad as "our rock offensively and defensively. She does so much that's not on the stat sheet. She's a pure leader."
Jordin Fender had 12 points and five steals for Dunbar. Brook Todd had all of her nine points in the second half, and Lexus Edwards had eight points.
Lafayette was powered by 6-2 freshman Ashanti Thomas, who had 18 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
"We knew she could be a key for them," Van Horn said. "She's a terrific athlete."
Freshman Dee Givens had eight points and five rebounds. Seniors Sarah Martin and Emily Justice had eight points apiece.
Denton gave her team a laundry list of seven things it had to do to beat Dunbar, including slowing the tempo and pounding the ball inside.
"They did all seven things at times during the game," she said. "I'm proud of them for being as disciplined as they were compared to the last time we played them."
Dunbar, assured of its first trip to the region tournament since 2008, advances to Friday's district finals against the winner of the Lexington Catholic-Lexington Christian semifinal game.
LAFAYETTE (15-14) — Thomas 7-15 4-5 18, Givens 2-6 4-4 8, Martin 2-4 2-2 8, Cooley 0-6 3-4 3, Demus 1-5 1-2 4, Justice 3-8 0-0 8. Totals 15-44 14-17 49.
PAUL DUNBAR (24-6) — Fender 6-11 0-0 12, Muhammad 5-14 7-11 17, Todd 4-8 1-1 9, McEldowney 1-6 2-2 4, Edwards 3-3 0-0 8, Parks 1-7 1-3 3, Jackson 1-6 0-0 3, Raglin 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-56 11-17 56.
Lafayette 7 16 9 17—49
Paul Dunbar 12 7 18 19—56