BOWLING GREEN, Ky.
Surrounded by talent, Danielle Lawrence rarely has to be player for the Butler High School girls’ basketball team.the
But in Wednesday’s first round of the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Sweet 16, she showed she’s capable of assuming that role.
The 5-foot-9 senior posted 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals as the Bearettes held off Newport Central Catholic 54-52 in E.A. Diddle Arena.
“We needed her to be the best player on the floor, without question,” Butler coach Larry Just said of Lawrence, an IUPUI signee. “Danielle has delivered time and time again when we’ve needed someone to step up … whether it’s 19 points or whether it’s a defensive stop, a steal, a rebound, free throws.
“We need that desperately with such a young group trying to find their way through some of this.”
Freshmen Tasia Jeffries (11 points) and Jaelynn Penn (nine points, seven rebounds) also had solid games for Butler (29-3), the No. 2 team in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings. The Bearettes ran their winning streak to 17 and will face Lafayette in Friday’s 2:30 p.m. EDT quarterfinal.
Nicole Kiernan, one of seven finalists for Miss Basketball, had 19 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks and three steals to lead No. 14 NewCath (29-5). Point guard Michaela Ware added 15 points but committed eight of her team’s 17 turnovers.
Butler turned those miscues into 21 points.
“I would have taken 13 or 14 in a heartbeat because that’s what (Butler) thrives off of,” said Thoroughbreds coach George Stoll, whose team also struggled at the free-throw line (6 of 16). “They do a great job in their press. … I thought we handled it pretty well. We turned it over in the half-court a couple too many times.”
Just said his team appeared settled during a fast-paced first quarter in which the Bearettes took a 20-17 lead. But from there it was a grind, and NewCath took a 32-29 lead on Ansley Davenport’s basket with 6:01 left in the third quarter.
“I never felt like we played the rest of the game like we expected to make a play or expected to get a stop,” Just said. “We got stops … but I didn’t see that sense of, ‘We’ve got this. We know what to do.’ That’s youth.”
Jeffries scored eight straight points, including two 3-pointers, to give Butler a 37-32 edge at the 4:02 mark. But NewCath took back the lead, 38-37, on Kiernan’s jumper with 1:18 remaining.
That’s when Lawrence took over, making a free throw to tie it and sinking a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left for a 41-38 lead.
“We started off in the first quarter with high energy, and the energy came down low and we were struggling,” Lawrence said. “We had to pick up the energy in the second half, and that’s what we did. We stuck together.”
Her steal and layup completed an 18-6 run that gave Butler a 47-38 lead with 5:30 remaining, but the Thoroughbreds made a final push. Kiernan’s basket pulled them within 53-50 with 22 seconds remaining, and Butler committed a turnover with 17.9 seconds left.
NewCath tried to spring a shooter loose for a 3-point try but had to settle for a 2-point jumper by Alexus Mayes that missed.
“They did a good job taking it away,” Stoll said of Butler’s defense. “It kind of broke down a little bit, and we ended up getting off a dribble jump shot. It wasn’t the best shot in the world, but at that time you have to take the first shot that becomes available.”
Lawrence’s free throw made it 54-50 with 7.4 seconds remaining, and Ware scored at the buzzer.
Just said the victory was another step in the process for a squad that features four freshmen and two sophomores among its top nine players.
“I told them (at halftime), ‘Don’t leave this place without doing what you’ve done for the last three or four months. It would be crazy,’ ” he said. “We settled in a little more, but I don’t think we were completely settled at any point.”