The Yellow Jackets, playing in their first area final since 2005, committed 17 turnovers and missed seven of 12 free throws with a chance to keep it close in the first half. Oxford also couldn’t outscore center Dajia Williams, let alone Gadsden City.
Williams scored 25 points and pulled down eight rebounds to lead the Titans to a 52-23 victory at Gadsden City High School.
The good news for Oxford (11-15) is the Yellow Jackets still advance to Thursday’s sub-regional at Huntsville, which beat Lee-Huntsville 73-41 on Saturday. Gadsden City (21-8) will play host to Lee-Huntsville on Thursday.
Oxford won the right to advance by stunning Clay-Chalkville 40-39 in this past Thursday’s first-round Area 9 action, marking the Jackets’ first area-tourney victory since 2005.
The not-so-good news? Oxford, which lost to Gadsden City 43-40 on Dec. 7 and 42-31 on Jan. 11, and got tough-but-non-lethal lesson about how to handle postseason success Saturday.
“At the beginning of the game, you get a mindset, and we were getting some decent looks, and it just wasn’t falling, even at the free-throws line,” Oxford coach Tonya Peoples said. “I don’t know. We might have been just a little too jacked up.”
Gadsden City came ready to play the team that shocked Clay-Chalkville on Thursday.
“Oh yeah, it got our attention,” Gadsden City coach Jeremy Brooks said. “Our loss to Clay, which made the area 5-1? That was our first area loss in 30-something games over four-and-half years, so we know what they’ve got.
“Honestly, they (the Yellow Jackets) deserved to win that game the other night. They really played a complete game, and our girls stayed to the end and saw every bit of it.”
So, Gadsden City came ready to put heat on Oxford’s ball handlers in the half-court defense.
“Really, we wanted a lot of ball pressure,” Brooks said. “They run a lot of sets on offense in their man-to-man offense, and the key, besides knowing what they’re trying to do, is putting pressure on the ball. That and also mixing it up with our matchup zone.”
During one key stretch, Oxford had three turnovers on consecutive possessions after a Deanna Clark free throw brought the Jackets within 15-7. Gadsden City converted both times, once on a Takara Blount jumper and again on a Williams putback to make it 19-7.
The Titans wound up leading 23-10 at halftime on the strength of Williams’ 11 first-half points then blew the game wide open, thanks largely to Williams’ 12-point third quarter.
Oxford’s frustrations dealing with Williams helped her convert a personal five-point play in the third quarter. She hit a putback and free throw on a foul by Sabrina Abbott then hit two technical foul shots after Abbott was called for spiking the ball.
Gadsden City led 39-16 after three quarters.
“The big girl just dominated,” Clark said. “That’s all you can say.”
Williams was named the tournament most valuable player and joined teammates Brooke Burns, Alyah Jackson and Blount on the all-tourney team.
Oxford had no double-figure scorers. Clark led the way with six points.
“We came into the game with a mindset, and, obviously, the mindset wasn’t right,” point guard Lexie Higgins said. “We should have come in bigger and better and just didn’t do it.”
Higgins, Clark and Jasmine Carter made the all-tourney team for Oxford, largely on the strength of their showing in the dramatic victory over Clay-Chalkville. The Jackets said that victory meant a lot.
“It was big, because nobody really respected us,” Clark said. “We got our respect with that win, and we get to keep going.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.