Sylacauga High School’s girls basketball team will clash with Valley in the Class 5A Southeast Regional Tournament today at noon at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery.
Lady Aggies head coach Derrick Crawford said he believes the squads match up well. He added he’s banking on a strong defensive effort from a team that went 7-4 in the second half of the season and held opponents to the 30s in scoring in five of those victories.
“As far as generating enough points to win the ballgame, our kids are more focused on making sure we get proper stops on defense,” Crawford said. “If we get enough stops on defense, we’re going to be in great shape.
“The whole second half of the season, we’ve been in great shape because of our defense. I don’t want to sell our kids short by putting too much pressure on them going into a ballgame like this and not continue to focus mainly on defense.
“We feel like we’re going to be fine. We feel like we have a number that we’ve got to score to win and we want to hold our opponent in the mid-30s.”
Sylacauga will be making its first appearance in the Sweet 16 since the 2016-17 season. The Lady Aggies defeated Demopolis 63-27 and Central Tuscaloosa 52-37 to capture a regional championship but fell to Wenonah 73-50 in the Final Four at Legacy Arena in Birmingham that season.
A pair of seniors, Aurielle Turner and Gabby Cox, remain from the 2016-17 squad.
“Turner was my sixth-person coming off the bench,” Crawford said. “She had major minutes that entire season as well as in that ballgame against Wenonah in Birmingham and all the way through the run against Central Tuscaloosa and Demopolis in the regionals.
“Gabby, on the other hand, she was … a role player at that time in her career. That was her first year ever playing basketball, so she didn’t have (as much of an impact as) she has now.”
Crawford said Turner is an exceptional leader, but he said he reminded her in a conversation Thursday that being a great leader also means being a great follower first.
“She’s a pretty good follower,” he said. “In order to lead, you’ve got to be able to follow directions.
“She will put them on her back, and I don’t want her to do that, put them on her back. Just play (her) role and believe in the girls that have been with (her) since Day 1. That’s how we built this team around her this year, but at the same time, we’re not going to ask her to do too much.”
He added there are several girls on the squad who’ve battled alongside Turner and Cox to help this team return to the Sweet 16.
“Dakota Johnson, a second-year player, we were able to get her out for basketball for the first time last year,” Crawford said. “She has really developed inside. In that last ballgame against Briarwood (Christian), she was in foul trouble, but she has been huge. Also, Christina Keith, another second-year player in our program, has been very important. De’Liyah Smith, one of our wings, our 2 guard, she’s a first-year player because she was injured last year.
“The biggest thing about these young girls I’ve named is that they’re growing up.”
Sylacauga defeated Briarwood 37-33 in a sub-regional playoff game to advance to Montgomery.
One of the biggest contributors in the second half of the season has been freshman point guard Zamar’ya Cook, who Crawford said has been directing traffic, ensuring her teammates are in the correct spots and giving her team opportunities to make things happen without committing as many turnovers.
“In the first half of the season, we were a wreck as far as just turning the ball over,” Crawford said. “In our ballgame against Briarwood the other night, we finished … with just 10 turnovers for the whole game when we were averaging that in a half (the first half of the season). The big thing is she’s handling the basketball really well. We’re not turning it over, and it’s giving us an opportunity to get in our sets and give us a chance.”