PRESCOTT, Ark. – Ashdown’s boys and Fouke’s girls made the 3A regional basketball tournament at the Prescott Arena the best ticket in Southwest Arkansas.
The Panthers improved to 24-1 on the season by routing defending state champion McGehee, 65-37. That performance was arguably topped when Fouke’s girls erased an early 18-4 deficit to shock Central West Helena and its 6-2 star player Tara Green. Mallory Oliver’s 3-pointer with 27 seconds left resulted in a 54-53 win for the Lady Panthers.
Earlier Friday, Centerpoint’s girls converted 12 straight free throws in the final three minutes to beat district rival Ashdown, 48-40.
The tournament concludes Saturday with the girls’ third-place game between Ashdown and Central West Helena at noon. The boys’ third-place encounter between McGehee and the loser of Friday’s late game between Drew Central and Central West Helena is set for 1:30 p.m. Centerpoint (14-10) and Fouke (24-6) play for the regional title at 6 p.m. Ashdown plays Friday’s late winner for the championship at 7:30 p.m.
Panthers’ Wilkerson goes down with injury
Ashdown’s lopsided win Friday finished on an unlucky note. Junior standout Lamar Wilkerson, the Panthers’ tallest player at 6-3, went down with a knee injury in the third quarter. Prior to that injury he scored all 14 of his points in the first half, helping Ashdown build a 39-24 advantage. Senior guard Kaiden Hunter led the Panthers’ attack with 17 points, with Notoris Nelson contributing 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“We played well, played hard, and played better defense,” said Ashdown coach James Smith. “We had some guys come off the bench and play well. If we play like this tomorrow, we’ve got a chance.
“Lamar (Wilkerson) said his knee popped, and he can’t bend it right now. If he can’t play it will hurt us. He was outstanding at both ends of the court tonight. His length really gives people problems.”
Fouke’s girls celebrating remarkable comeback
Few would have given Fouke’s girls a chance after Green ignited an 18-4 run by the Lady Cougars in the first quarter. Fouke couldn’t buy a basket early, shooting 10 percent from the outside in the first two quarters. Still, the Lady Panthers started their comeback in the second quarter, eventually pulling ahead in the third quarter.
“We knew we had to change our plan after falling behind like we did,” said Mallory Oliver. “We never quit playing hard, and everyone was contributing.”
Five different players scored 3-pointers for the Panthers, with Taylor Hardin swishing three to finish with a team-high 15 points (all in the second half). Oliver and Laykin Smallwood added 13 points each.
Every point was necessary, too. Green was practically unstoppable, scoring 20 of her 30 points after getting one of her 22 rebounds. She even made a 3-pointer. Destanee Hardison had 12 points for the Cougars.
“I felt our best chance was to get them tired, and I think that happened in the fourth quarter,” said Fouke coach Mo Williams. “Green had a shot in the final seconds and missed. I’d like to think it was because she was tired.”
Centerpoint earns win at charity stripe
Friday’s first game between Centerpoint’s girls and Ashdown was closely contested until the final minutes.
The Panthers had rallied to tie the score (34-34) with 5:20 left to play. Ashdown had four opportunities to capture the lead, but couldn’t. The Lady Knights got a layup from Jaide Vavra, and 12 free throws sent Ashdown into the third-place game. Vavra, Marlee Bright and Monika Flores, all made four free throws in the final three minutes. Vavra led all scorers with 19 points, with Bright adding 10.
Adaysia Thompson led Ashdown’s offense with 13 points, while Jukarra Greenlee netted 11.
In other Southwest Arkansas regionals, host Junction City’s boys beat Lafayette County, 64-60. Spring Hill’s girls edged Murfreesboro, 64-60.
Dermott’s boys surprised Kirby in the Class A competition at Bradley, 77-69. They play Nevada for the title Saturday night after the Blue Jays beat Bradley, 75-55. Kirby’s girls advanced with a 52-41 win over Caddo Hills, and Blevins slipped past Emerson, 59-54.