The identity for the Lady Yellow Jackets this season has come in the paint. By dominating the rectangle that’s 12 feet wide and 15 feet long has helped Denison off to a strong district start.
With a couple of big bodies to take advantage of the space underneath the basket, the Lady Jackets put opponents on notice — guard it well and even if you do, it might not matter.
When Princeton got overwhelmed down low in the first half, the Lady Panthers packed it in with a vow to force Denison to find offense somewhere else.
The approach almost worked as the Lady Jackets did not make a shot in the fourth quarter but still hung on to defeat Princeton, 50-44, in District 10-5A action at Denison.
“We missed some uncontested shots on the block,” Lady Jackets head coach Rod Been said. “One’s not a big deal but then when you miss a couple and don’t get back with transition defense it can make anybody nervous.”
Taryn Gaines had 18 points — including the 1,000th of her career — and 11 rebounds, Jade Fry finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, Camryn Nixon added seven points and Jada Mathews chipped in six points for Denison (13-13, 2-1), which moved into a four-way tie for first place with McKinney North, Lovejoy and Wylie East. The Lady Jackets travel to East on Tuesday night before closing out the first half at home against rival Denison.
If not for a 38-37 loss against Lovejoy the last time out, Denison would be in sole possession of first place.
“Obviously we didn’t play well enough on the road to win that game,” Been said. “We had our chances.”
Kaitlyn McKenna was the only Lady Panther in double figures with 13 points while Lilly Rodriguez and Raylee Cave each scored eight points and Makenna Walker added six points for Princeton (16-9, 1-2), which had only 28 points through three quarters before its fourth-quarter comeback attempt.
“From scouting them, they are a fantastic shooting team. You have to watch out for (McKenna) and (Walker) and (Kendra Gillespie),” Been said. “Jada Mathews’ defense, she was on every shooter when they caught the ball. Understood the scheme as a freshman. It was subtle, won’t show up in the box score.”
Even as Princeton was cutting into its 14-point deficit after three quarters, the Lady Panthers weren’t much better from the floor than the Lady Jackets. Princeton hit just three shots in the fourth — it just happened that two of them were threes by McKenna and the other was part of a three-point play from Walker.
The Lady Panthers made 8-of-9 free throws during the stanza to cut Denison’s lead to three with 1:37 remaining.
When McKenna hit her first three of the quarter, the Lady Jackets were still up 10 with 5:55 to go. But Denison was in the middle of a three-and-a-half minute scoring drought so Princeton’s four free throws in that span made it a two-possession game.
Princeton had a chance to tie the game with just over a minute left when it forced a jump ball to keep possession ollowing a missed free throw. The Lady Panthers came up empty and Nixon and Fry combined to hit five-of-six free throws in the closing 53 seconds to seal the win.
When the teams came out of the locker room, Princeton put in motion its plan to choke off the post. Nixon took advantage of the open space and hit a pair of three-pointers.
The contributions of Mathews and also Nixon, who played the entire game, have been strong despite the inexperience that comes with being freshmen.
“That’s a lot of weight on two kids new to this whole thing,” Been said.
Fry put back her own miss for Denison’s largest lead of the night at 16 with three minutes to go in the third. Moments later Gaines made a free throw for the 1,000th point of her career and she is in position to grab her 1,000th career rebound next month — she needs 53 over the final seven games for that milestone.
Walker’s two free throws trimmed Princeton’s deficit to 11 but with a second left in the frame Fry converted a three-point play and Denison carried the 42-28 lead to the final eight minutes, not knowing that would be its final basket.
Gaines had eight points in the first quarter and added six more in the second quarter. Almost all of Denison’s points in the frame came via its post play and helped the Lady Jackets open a 12-point lead.
Brooke Veal’s three-pointer with just under a minute to go in the half pulled Princeton within single digits but Mathews picked up the ball following a scramble and hit a three from the right side at the buzzer to give the Lady Jackets a 28-18 advantage at the break.
After the teams traded baskets to open the game, Denison went in front for good and opened a 16-6 lead after the first quarter thanks to a 10-2 run. Mathews kicked it off with a left-wing three-pointer and Fry capped it off with her shot from behind the arc.