BOWLING GREEN, Ky.
It’s a favorite phrase of Larry Just — “settle in” — and it’s something he believes his Butler High School girls’ basketball team never did in three straight trips to the state tournament from 2010-12.
So after finally finding the confidence he’s been seeking from the Bearettes on Friday, Just couldn’t hide his excitement.
“It was fun from my standpoint to watch them play,” he said. “This is what I was hoping we’d see down here.”
Facing a bigger Lafayette squad, Butler utilized its press and depth to post a 62-50 victory on the quarterfinals of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 in front of 2,979 fans at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Bearettes (30-3) — No. 2 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings — scored 27 points off 23 Lafayette turnovers and ran their winning streak to 18.
“I felt like we could pressure their guards and get them to throw the thing around a little bit,” Just said. “I didn’t know how much pressure they’ve seen all year long, but something we obviously do is disrupt.”
IUPUI signee Danielle Lawrence had 23 points — hitting 11 of 15 free throws — six rebounds, five assists and four steals to lead Butler. Freshman Jaelynn Penn hit 3 of 4 3-point tries and added 17 points as Butler advanced to face Ashland Blazer (26-8) in today’s 7:30 p.m. EDT semifinal.
Lawrence first played in the Sweet 16 as an eighth-grader in 2010 and returned the next two years, but this marks her first trip to the semifinals.
“It’s a great feeling because I’ve never been in that spot before,” Lawrence said. “I’m really happy.”
Dee Givens, cousin of former University of Kentucky player Jack “Goose” Givens, scored 19 points to lead No. 6 Lafayette (28-4). Ashanti Thomas, a 6-foot-3 junior, added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Generals shot just 39.1 percent and were flustered by what coach Allison Denton called the best press her team had faced this season.
“They do a really, really good job on the first inbounds pass,” Denton said. “That’s the ticket with a good press. Usually if you can get one pass out of that you’re pretty much free. … We did that at times, but the times that we didn’t, we knew they were probably going to score out of it.”
The Bearettes trailed 10-6 after an ugly first quarter in which they hit just 2 of 9 shots and committed eight turnovers, but they finally “settled in” to close the half with a 16-5 run.
Bre Torrens and Penn hit back-to-back threes to give Butler an 18-17 lead, and Lawrence and Penn both scored five points in the final 1:14 to give the Bearettes a 28-22 lead.
Penn missed her first four shots but said she wasn’t frustrated.
“I just kept shooting,” she said. “It didn’t really bother me at all because I’m thinking the next one is going to go in.”
Thomas scored 10 points in the third quarter to get Lafayette within 37-35, but Butler opened the fourth with an 11-1 surge to take control. Torrens hit a 3-pointer, Micaiah Bowden had a three-point play and Penn scored five straight, including a 3-pointer that gave Butler a 48-36 lead with 5:13 left.
The Generals never got closer than eight points the rest of the way, and Just finally found signs his team is mentally prepared to win a state championship.
“This was one of our better games in the last month,” he said. “They played together and stayed disciplined to what we asked them to do. From a coaching standpoint, this was pretty good for us. It was good to see they could bring it down here.”