To say the Pulaski Academy went through a tough time in the first two months of the season might not be a strong enough assessment for the Lady Bruins. But then again, when you’ve been as successful as them, any rating that attaches hard times to Pulaski Academy is surprising.
The Lady Bruins, who fired all of their starters from last season’s squad and were ranked No. 1 in Class 4A during preseason, have lost seven of their first 11 games and gone on two three-game streaks. consecutive defeats in December.
However, what Pulaski Academy is doing now has eliminated all the shockwaves that were sent during this early season period.
The Lady Bruins (19-8, 12-1) have won 15 of their last 16 games, including 11 in a row by 10 or more points. They picked up perhaps their biggest victory in that span on Monday when they beat Class 4A No. 5 Wynne 55-41 to tie the Lady Yellow Jackets for first place in the 4A-5 conference.
“Instead of worrying about the scoring part, we just decided to go back to Lady Bruin basketball,” Pulaski Academy coach Rick Treadway said. “We’re starting to guard better and put a little more pressure on people. The girls have always been bought in defense. It’s just a group effort at this end of the field, and things have been a lot better these four last few weeks.”
Pulaski Academy, which lost 67-62 to Farmington in the state tournament semifinals last year, was looking to get through the doors quickly this season but received bad news before even playing a game. Senior guard Natalya Kaza, one of the team’s best contributors both offensively and defensively, tore her anterior cruciate ligament over the summer.
“She’s not really big, but she went for rebounds and gave us 12 points per game,” Treadway explained. “She did all the little things. Those 50-50 balls, they were always hers. For us, that was hard to get over because she and those kids have been playing together for the last two or three years.
“It just took us a while for all the pieces of the puzzle to fit together.”
Treadway received a boost when Jaidyn Koerdt, a 5-11 guard, was traded in the offseason after an all-state season at Russellville. His addition was huge and couldn’t have come at a better time, especially after losing Kaza for the year.
It took the team a while to regain their chemistry, Treadway said, but things have since taken off. A victory today over eStem would give Pulaski Academy the top seed in the conference heading into next week’s 4A-East Regional in Highland.
“A lot of people were wondering what’s wrong with the PA, and things like that,” Treadway said. “Looking back on who we played, we were within a few points of teams that are really, really good. You’re talking about Jonesboro, Nashville, Nettleton, Cabot, Little Rock Christian. … all of them are good teams, and we we just kept fighting.
“I think we learned from those games, and I feel really good where we are right now.”
On the lookout
Two weeks ago, Cabot sat 1-6 in 6A-Central and faltered on the outside when it came to playoff projections after their 82-34 loss to top-ranked North Little Rock.
Just over two weeks later, the Panthers are squarely on track and trending higher.
Cabot (8-16, 4-7) has won three of his last four games and is coming off a thrilling 59-57 overtime win over No. 9 Bryant. That win, coupled with Conway’s loss to Little Rock Central that same night, put the Panthers 1½ games ahead of the Wampus Cats for the final playoff spot. There’s still a full week until the playoffs start, but Cabot coach Logan Bailey loves the way his guys are doing.
“Kids are playing hard,” he said. “We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’ve also had glimpses throughout the season of what we’re doing now. At first we struggled to have any sort of consistency, so that was nice. to see this here lately.”
This inconsistency cost the Panthers a number of games, especially during the non-conference portion of their slate. Their nine losses against non-league teams were 10 points or less. Those misfortunes carried over to conference play when Cabot lost its first three games by a combined 17 points.
But it wasn’t until the 67-54 loss at Fort Smith Northside on January 25 that Bailey and his assistant, John White, decided to make some changes.
“We sat down and talked about some of our struggles offensively,” Bailey explained. “We felt like we were between a little structured and a little unstructured. So we decided that we were going to trust our players a little more.
“We were going to play more and take a little bit out of that structure, just give them a bit more confidence and freedom, and it worked. The guys are more confident shooting the ball, more confident attacking the basket. The lack of structure didn’t have that drove them crazy either.”
Austin King went wild against the Hornets when he scored a game-high 20 points in what was the team’s biggest win of the year. Still, the Panthers are no slouch, and they have a rematch against Northside today. But Bailey thinks his group has what it takes to keep up their blistering pace over the past week.
“As long as we don’t return the ball, I feel good in our attack,” he said. “Defensively it’s about dominating the paint. We’re not very big, but we have to control the glass and hold the teams to one shot.
“That’s key for us, and hopefully our guys keep doing things the way they’ve been doing.”
LAKE HAMILTON GIRLS
Scream at the right time
All is well in Wolves country, and Lake Hamilton girls coach Blake Condley hopes it stays that way.
“We’re trying to expand towards that first week of March,” he said. “We have done a very good job so far. I like what we have done and the way we are playing as a team.”
The way Lady Wolves are currently playing could very well land them in the Class 5A State Finals. Lake Hamilton (22-2, 11-0 5A South) hasn’t lost in two months and has dominated every conference game. The 14-game winning streak is the longest in its class, and they could cap a third straight run unbeaten in the league with road victories remaining against Texarkana, Pine Bluff and White Hall – teams they already have. beaten by an average of 24 points.
Lake Hamilton’s success, however, was not entirely unexpected. He fired eight seniors, led by Arkansas Tech signee Hayleigh Wyrick. The senior guard is averaging 21 points, 7 rebounds and 5 steals while playing a much larger role than she had as a junior. His classmates are also doing their part, with Audri Winfrey averaging 12 points and six boards and Ginny Higginbotham consistently racking up nine points and four boards while shooting 44% from beyond the three-point line.
This trio, along with the other seniors, have made this a good year for Condley – so far.
“We were also able to stay healthy,” he explained. “I knock on wood to keep it that way, but seeing the relationships between the girls has been special. I mean, we can’t even make Hayleigh smile when she’s having a good night. But let one of her teammates do. a few good things, and she’ll be up there. Same goes for Audri and Ginny.
“It was really fun.”
The fun for Lady Wolves will really begin when they open the tournament in a few weeks. They are in position to earn a seed and they hope to turn that into a state title.
“We want to play our best going into this tournament,” Condley said. “Right now I think we’re doing it. But I think the process of getting there has been just as fun. We don’t take anything for granted, especially with the way Covid has treated everyone.
“We enjoy every minute of what we do, and that includes practice.”
The Jonesboro boys’ and girls’ teams had plenty to celebrate on Tuesday. Not only did both teams score wins over rival West Memphis, but Golden Hurricane boys’ coach Wes Swift picked up his 300th victory with the program. He is 300-79 in school and has won seven conference titles and four state championships with the team. Lady Golden Hurricane guard Ereauna Hardaway scored 32 points in her team’s 60-54 win and in the process surpassed 1,000 points for her career. The North Texas signee has been an all-state selection the past two seasons.