LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rarely do basketball games between two highly-ranked teams live up to the hype, but Friday night was the exception.
The top-ranked Butler High School girls basketball team outlasted No. 4 Manual, 72-71 at home in a triple-overtime thriller that featured a pair of last-second shots and big play after big play.
“It was a great game,” said Bearettes coach Larry Just, whose team is No. 1 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings. “I knew coming in it was going to be a great game. I didn’t know it would be a three-overtime type game for either team, (but) it had a little bit of everything.
“I think it was just two teams that kept trying to make plays. We’d make a play to get ourselves up, then they’d make plays to get themselves up and we just happened to make the final play at the end to kind of get it far enough out.”
Senior guard Tasia Jeffries’ 3-pointer with 1:46 left in the third OT was the final lead-change as Butler (18-1) won its 18th game in a row since its season-opening loss to No. 2 Male.
Jeffries, who hit a game-extending, off-balance 3-pointer just before the buzzer of the second overtime, tallied a team-high 24 points while senior wing Jaelynn Penn added 23 points and 15 rebounds for the defending state champs.
“This is amazing,” Jeffries said amid the bedlam after the game. “This is our second time playing them this season. We knew it was going to be tough because they made different changes in the game so we knew we were going to have to fight different looks on defense and different looks on offense. We just did what we could. It shows how mentally tough this team is.”
The Bearettes beat Manual 62-50 on Dec. 23 in the final of the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic in Lexington. In the rematch no team led by more than six points at any point of the game.
A 3-pointer by Jeffries put Butler up 43-41 with 30 seconds left in regulation before Tonysha Curry’s putback at the buzzer sent the game to overtime. Penn’s two free throws with 21.7 seconds left in the first overtime sent it to a second.
At the end of the second period of overtime it was Penn who caught a pass at half court and then turned and found Jeffries. Jeffries took one dribble forward before she pulled up and drilled a long, on-the-move, high-arching 3-pointer just prior to the buzzer – a play very similar to the one Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew used in the NCAA Tournament in 1998.
“We were trying to get Tasia, just like we did, on the move up the floor and see if she could make something,” Just said. “These kids, a lot of them will stick around after practice and shoot their half-court shots and all that kind of stuff. Of course, as coaches you’re saying, ‘When are you ever going to use that?’ Well tonight we had to use one of them, and thank goodness it went in to continue the game.”
Added Jeffries: “It’s crazy. After practice we always have fun and shoot half-court shots, you never know when you’re going to need it in a game, though. And today we needed it.”
The two teams then traded baskets to start the third OT before Jeffries’ fifth 3-pointer gave the Bearettes the lead for good.
Manual had the ball down three in the final seconds, but it ended up in the hands of Nila Blackford underneath. The sophomore forward tallied the final two points of her game-high 30 just before the buzzer for Manual (15-4).
“That was a botched decision,” Crimsons coach Jeff Sparks said. “We had three different people trying to get an option for a three, but we didn’t execute that the right way.”
Junior guard Jaela Johnson added 20 points for Manual while Curry finished with 14 before fouling out late in the first OT.
“It was a real tough one,” said Sparks, whose team shot 50 percent from the field but was 18 of 32 from the free throw line. “You take a very good basketball team to triple-overtime, I know they feel like they had opportunities to win and we feel like we had opportunities to win. I just kept saying after each overtime, ‘Don’t forget this is supposed to be fun,’ trying to keep us relaxed.
“It was a great basketball game. It was a fun environment. We’ve just got to keep our kids together because we’ve got a very short time tomorrow before we play Mercer County. It’s a tough back-to-back, but if you want to be one of the best and have the opportunity to be there in postseason play, then you’ve got to learn to do it.”
The Crimsons are scheduled to take on the No. 2 Titans at 2:45 p.m. Saturday in the Raatz Fence/O’Shea’s Basketball Classic at Mercy. The Bearettes are slated to play Lombard (Ill.) Montini Catholic immediately after that game.
MANUAL 71 (15-4)
Jaela Johnson 20p; Tonysha Curry 14p, 10r; Aniah Griffin 6p; Nila Blackford 30p; Jeanay Riley 1p.
Breia Torrens 2p, 5a; Tasia Jeffries 24p; Teri Goodlett 9p; Jaelynn Penn 23p, 15r; Molly Lockhart 12p, 10r; Kiara Cain 2p.