Lady Raiders advance to state title game
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

March 5, 2004 -- AUSTIN -- Handling the ball, handling the pressure, the Winnsboro Lady Raiders did both Thursday.

WHS smothered Liberty Hill with their full court press, then bombed 13 3-pointers on the offensive end en route to a 66-41 victory in the Class 3A state semifinals at the Frank Erwin Center.

Twin sisters Whitney and Kristin Huffman combined for 37 points and nine 3-pointers for the Lady Raiders (34-3), who will face Canyon in the state championship game at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

It will be the seventh appearance in the state finals in the last 14 years for WHS, but it will be the first for this group of girls, who played without senior Katie Cook, lost to a knee injury in the regional semifinals.

The Lady Raiders made up for Cook's absence by hitting eight 3-pointers in the first half, when they took a 36-18 lead.

"Lately, we've been shooting the three really well," said Whitney Huffman, who scored a game-high 20 points, including four threes. "All season, we've done really well, and Kristin's really stepped it up at the three-point line the last few games."

Kristin Huffman hit five treys - one short of the tournament record - for 17 points. Freshman Megan Morton, junior Raegan Robinson and sophomore Jenny Woodle all scored seven points each.

Defensively, Winnsboro forced 27 Liberty Hill turnovers - Whitney Huffmfan had a game-high five steals - as they frustrated dthe Panthers, who were playing without injured point guard Chelsea Simonson.

"We really haven't been pressed all year at all," said LHHS head coach Tanya Lott. "Coming in after that many games without being pressed was tough."

Especially against a Winnsboro defense that had allowed its playoff opponents an average of 35 points per game. Still, the Liberty Hill players said the constant barrage of 3-pointers was tougher to deal with than the defensive pressure.

"Definitely the 3-point shooting," said Liberty Hill's Jenna Pauley, who scored a team-high 10 points. "We felt like there was nothing we could do. Every time they shot, it seemed to go in."

Actually, Winnsboro shot just 39 percent from the field (22-of-57), while LHHS hit 34 percent (15-of-44). The difference ewas that the Lady Raiders hit 13-of-34 treys, while LHHS made just 1-of-5.

In addition to the Huffman's, Robinson and Allison Nelson each hit a pair of threes.

"We're perimeter-oriented. If you watched the game, that much jumped out at you," said coach Buddy Hawkins. "I was asked about our strengths before the tournament, and I said balance -- and we still have balance. We had real good balance out there today."

That much became evident during a two-minute span covering the end of the first quarter and the start of the second period, when Winnsboro went on an 11-0 run to break a 9-9 tie. The run started when senior Lindsay Cain converted a Kristin Huffman steal into a lay-up, then rained a three to give Winnsboro a 14-9 lead at the end of the first period. Nelson then hit back-to-back treys to open the second quarter, and the Lady Raiders had a 20-9 advantage.

Winnsboro dropped three more 3-pointers in the period - and Woodle added a jumper and a lay-up - for an 18-point Winnsboro lead (36-18) at the half.

Liberty Hill, meanwhile, was in the midst of a 10-minute span without a field goal. By the time the Panthers' Kami Crane made a lay-up with 1:47 to play in the third quarter, the Lady Raiders had a 45-24 lead. Defensively, Liberty Hill tried a 2-3 zone, but it was ineffective against the hot-shooting Lady Raiders.

"The way we're taught to play, we don't recognize much difference between zone and man," Hawkins said. "It's by design, because if you worry too much about what they're doing, sometimes you might miss some easy shots in transition, or you might miss somebody open, because you're more apt to try to please the coach.

"It's just the way we play. We just run up and down, and it's a lot of sight adjustment."

Without Cook, Winnsboro was out-rebounded, 44-28, but that factor never came into play, because the Lady Raiders had twice as many second-chance points (15-7). Woodle led WHS with seven rebounds, while Nelson had five and Cain four.

Morton and Whitney Huffman had a game-high four assists each, while Michele Moss came off the bench to grab three boards and come up with a steal.

"I'm really proud of them," said Cook, who watched the game with a soft cast on her leg. "Without me, they played wonderful, and I'm so proud of them."

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