It's not easy being No. 1.
Anderson County, the top-rated girls' basketball team in the state, expects to get the best shot an opponent has to give.
That was the case Thursday night as the visiting Bearcats fought off No. 24 Dunbar 57-50.
"We've got a target on our back," said Anderson's Makenzie Cann, a 6-foot senior.
Eriel McKee, like Cann a Miss Basketball candidate, led Anderson County (2-0) with 25 points and Cann added 19.
"It was tough," Coach Tony Kays said. "But (Dunbar is) a very good team, well-coached and their kids play so hard. And they shot the ball so well early, so it was a battle the whole way.
"But I'm proud of my team. They gutted it out on the road. It kind of goes with the territory — we can probably expect that from most teams every night out."
Dunbar kept hanging around thanks primarily to ShaKeema Jackson and Brooke Todd. Jackson drained six three-pointers and finished with 24 points. Todd, a 6-2 senior, added 10 points and at least that many rebounds.
"We did an excellent job executing our plays and running the defense," Coach Sarah Bridenbaugh said. "Our zone looked great. I'm real proud of the kids. We rebounded great and we executed well."
Kays doesn't have to tell his girls often to expect the most from their opponents.
"They're a smart group," he said. "They understand what's at stake and they understand the situation."
And they get along like a true team, Cann said. It's what makes the Bearcats special, along with that No. 1 notation of course.
"We get along really well," Cann said. "We're all like best friends on the court and off the court."
Each team led by as many as six points in the first half, which ended with the Bearcats on top 29-28.
Dunbar scored the first six points of the second half to lead 34-29. Anderson County didn't flinch.
"We've played together forever," Cann said. "We just got back in our groove and picked it up when we needed to."
Said McKee: "I knew we were going to hit them back with a run."
The Bearcats reeled off the next 13 points to lead 42-34.
Anderson County never lost the lead from there, although Dunbar came close.
The Bulldogs pulled to within 47-44 when Todd scored with about four minutes left.
Anderson County answered with the next eight points — four by McKee and two each by Cann and Kaci Currens — for a 55-44 lead with 1:20 left.
That was enough to get the job done.
"They were physical," McKee said. "I knew that they were going to come out and give us everything. ... We just came out with the same intensity."
Anderson County expects similar tests throughout the season. Kays has fashioned a schedule that he considers tough, all the better to prepare for being No. 1 when March rolls around.
"That's the idea," he said. "We've pushed the schedule up there where it needs to be to hopefully get us ready for the post-season."
ANDERSON CO. 57, PAUL DUNBAR 50
Anderson Co. (2-0) — Stewart 2, Rice 0, Cann 19, Avritt 0, McKee 25, Currens 9, Robinson 2.
Paul Dunbar (1-1) — Ighodaro 8, Jackson 24, Todd 10, Armstrong 2, Marrow 6.
Anderson County 15 14 15 13—57
Paul Dunbar 16 12 11 11—50
Three-point goals — Anderson Co. 4 (Cann 2, McKee 1, Currens 1), Paul Dunbar 7 (Ighadaro 1, Jackson 6).