Holy Cross’ Ally Mayhaus drives toward the basket during the second quarter of their semifinal game with Highlands in the Girls’ Ninth Region Basketball Tournament at NKU Saturday, March 7, 2015.
Holy Cross and Highlands flexed their defensive muscles in Saturday’s first semifinal of the Ninth Region girls’ basketball tournament at Northern Kentucky University’s Bank of Kentucky Center.
Known for their offensive prowess, the Indians and Bluebirds also are defensive stalwarts, both ranking among the region’s top three teams in scoring and scoring defense.
But it was defense that held sway on the big court at the BOKC, with Holy Cross coming out on top. The Indians eliminated Highlands, 49-32 while holding the Bluebirds to their lowest point total of the season.
“The second half, we definitely buckled down more,” Holy Cross coach Kes Murphy said. “At the end of the first half, we did not execute, but we found a way to win.”
Holy Cross, 28-3 and ranked first in The Enquirer coaches’ poll, advanced to today’s 6 p.m. regional final against either second-ranked Holmes or defending regional champion Newport Central Catholic, ranked seventh. Holmes and NewCath played in Saturday’s late semifinal.
The Indians are looking for their first regional championship since 1976, which also marked their last appearance in the final.
The third-ranked Bluebirds ended their season with a record of 30-4.
Wright State recruit Deja Turner led Holy Cross with a game-high 15 points. She also had three steals. Her drive down the lane with 4:20 left in the second quarter gave the Indians the lead for good, at 11-10. Holy Cross scored 24 fourth-quarter points to put it away.
Point guard Dejah McClendon was next for the Indians with 10 points. She also had three assists. Teammate Abby Hassert scored nine points and had two steals. Aleah Tucker scored eight points. She added three steals for the Indians’ suffocating man-to-man defense.
“That’s what we’ve been emphasizing,” Turner said. “Our defense played great tonight. We didn’t let them hurt us with 3s, which is what they did the last time we played them.”
Going up against the Indians’ twin towers, 6-foot-2 sisters Ally and Cessie Mayhaus, and facing a fleet of pesky guards, Briana Adler led Highlands with 14 points. McKenzie Leigh was next with 10.
Ally Mayhaus, a Bellarmine recruit, led Holy Cross with nine rebounds. The Indians outrebounded the Bluebirds, 24-20, and forced Highlands into 17 turnovers. Holy Cross outscored Highlands, 16-7 on points off turnovers.
The key sequence came midway through the third quarter. Highlands’ Alex Combs hit a basket and ensuing free-throw to pull the Bluebirds to within 21-17 with 4:34 remaining in the quarter. They didn’t score again until Combs hit another free-throw with 6:10 to play. That enabled the Indians to go on a 14-1 run, bridging the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth.
Highlands went without a field for 9:36 of the second half, stretching from the middle of the third quarter to the first five minutes of the fourth. The Bluebirds’ previous low score was 39, twice, once against Holy Cross in a 40-39 double-overtime loss in Covington.
Points were hard to come by in Saturday’s first half, as Holy Cross and Highlands totaled 27 points the first 20 minutes. Holy Cross led 15-12 at the break after holding Highlands to one field goal and five second-quarter points.
Holy Cross shot 33.3 percent (5-for-15) from the field in the first half, while Highlands shot 28.6 percent (4-for-14). Holy Cross finished at 50 percent (14-for-28), Highlands at 25 percent (9-for-36). The Indians shot 69.2 percent (9-for-13) after the break.
Highlands went 7:51 without a field goal in the opening half, bridging the final minute of the first quarter and nearly the first seven minutes of the second. Holy Cross didn’t score until the game’s fourth minute, allowing the Bluebirds to take a 5-0 lead.
The Indians went scoreless for five minutes at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second. They led 8-7 after one quarter.
Highlands 7 5 5 15 — 32
Holy Cross 8 7 10 24 — 49
Highlands (30-3): Adler 5 2 14, Leigh 3 3 10, Combs 1 4 7, Graves 0 1 1. Totals 9 10 32.
Holy Cross (27-3): Turner 5 4 15, McClendon 2 5 10, Hassert 4 1 9, Tucker 1 6 8, A. Mayhaus 2 3 7. Totals 14 19 49.
Halftime: Holy Cross, 15-12 . 3-pointers H 4 (Adler 2, Leigh, Combs). HC 2 (Turner, McClendon).