If there’s one thing FAMU DRS girls basketball team has learned since last season’s state semifinal loss to Grandview Prep, it’s that it must always be the aggressor.
The Rattlers failed to do so while losing 81-70 to the Pride last February, yet this season’s results have all come about because FAMU DRS has been unyielding in how it attacks.
The top-ranked team in Class 2A did a number on Academy at the Lakes in Tuesday morning’s state semifinal in Lakeland. FAMU DRS wasted no time challenging Wildcats sophomore center Imani Thomas, getting two early fouls on one of the best players in the Tampa area.
With Thomas sitting, the Rattlers put together a 36-9 run to close the first half and guard Jazmine Jones scored 17 of her game-high 26 points in a 44-17 first half as FAMU DRS rolled to a 74-45 victory.
“We knew we had to be aggressive, just like every game,” said Jones, who also pulled down nine rebounds. “We had to do the things we needed to do to be successful. It all started with the defensive end, because when we lock down defensively the offense will come.”
After struggling to a 1-of-18 shooting night in the regional final, where she missed all 10 of her 3-point attempts, Rattlers senior shooting guard Ja’Nyia McNealy found her hot spot again. In tandem with the rest of her offense, which received 11 points from freshman point guard Lakrista Walker and 10 points from senior forward Raygene Garner, McNealy poured in 17 points.
“Ja’Nyia had a bad shooting game, but she knew one of the two games here in Lakeland she had to bring it,” Jones said. “She shot a heck of a lot better.”
“When she has droughts like that, I just tell her to keep playing,” Rattlers coach Ericka Cromartie said. “As an athlete, you’ll have times where things don’t go your way. She played through it. Sometimes when shots aren’t falling you need to drive and just see a ball go through. That can change everything and she did that.”
AATL (27-2) couldn’t match everything FAMU DRS (26-2) threw at it, even though Thomas totaled 23 points and freshman guard Audra Lepold scored 17.
“Without (Thomas) out there, we were able to carve up their middle,” Cromartie said. “By the time she came back, it was already out of reach. She got 23, but the damage was already done.”
The Rattlers get to face off Thursday afternoon with state nemesis and defending champion Grandview Prep (17-8) for the right to a state championship trophy, which would simultaneously erase plenty of bad feelings from last year.
“It’s revenge,” Jones said. “I’m excited to play against them again. It would have been nice to play them this morning and just get it out the way though, but I guess we have to do it for the championship game. We have to win this game. There’s no other option.”