It was exactly where the Lady Jackets wanted to be and yet also teetering on the brink of disaster. Because while Denison was in a good place holding a 16-point lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter, the whistle which signaled the fourth foul on senior center Taryn Gaines could have been disastrous — especially because starting point guard Maliyah Butler picked up her fifth and missed the final 5:26.
The Lady Jackets have been powered by a defense with Gaines as the backbone — her ability to patrol the paint makes things easier for everyone wearing black and gold. But now Gaines had to walk the fine line at both ends of the court for the next seven minutes and she managed it well.
“They know how to play with fouls,” DHS head coach Rod Been said. “I don’t sub kids for fouls. I don’t guess how many minutes they’re going to play. That’s the trust I have with them.”
Gaines scored Denison’s first 11 points of the fourth and the Lady Jackets’ swarming defense through three quarters powered the way to 58-45 victory over Frisco Memorial in a Class 5A Region II bi-district contest at Denison.
“I played it safe somewhat. I couldn’t put my body into them. Teammates had my back and were ready to help,” she said. “I knew I had to do the best I could.”
Denison (19-15) will face Woodrow Wilson, which eliminated Dallas Spruce, in the area round later this week.
Gaines had 26 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, Jade Fry added 18 points and eight rebounds, Butler chipped in five points and seven assists and Camryn Nixon totaled six points and five rebounds for the Lady Jackets, who are in the area round for the third time in four years.
Denison was the only District 10-5A team to advance and was on alert after the top two seeds — Wylie East and McKinney North — were beaten by a combined 28 points the prior night.
“We lost a little confidence to see our No. 1 and No. 2 go down by comfortable margins,” Been said. “But we made sure to talk about it and I think it made them get even more focused.”
Jasmyn Lott finished with 19 points — but was a non-factor for three quarters — and seven rebounds while Kailee Deffebaugh added 12 points and seven rebounds and Angelica Alexander chipped in nine points for Frisco Memorial (25-12), which was trying to earn the program’s first playoff win in its second year of existence.
Memorial became the 27th team in 34 tries to have 45 points or fewer against Denison.
“That’s been our story,” Been said. “They broke us down a little bit at the end to get to 45. We were able to defend how we wanted to and we really limited what they wanted to do.”
After falling behind big in the second quarter, Memorial never really posed a serious threat. The Lady Jackets saw their lead peak at 24 in the middle of the third quarter and it never dipped below 13 points in the second half.
Lott, who is Memorial’s leading scorer, managed just a single free throw for the first two-and-a-half quarters. She scored 12 points in the fourth but it was too late to spur a comeback.
The Lady Warriors did try. Lott had two quick baskets and Deffebaugh made a pair of free throws to get the margin to 14 points. But from that point the Lady Jackets had an answer, either with Gaines in the paint — she had all four Denison buckets in the fourth — or at the free-throw line.
Lott got it to 52-37 with two-and-a-half minutes left before Gaines scored on consecutive possessions to seal the deal.
“I keep looking and seeing the lead was getting smaller and the clock wasn’t moving very fast,” Been said. “I knew they had a run in them. She plays a big part of her bench and my girls were getting a bit fatigued. We had to find a way to hold on.”
Denison’s lead hit 20 points for the first time when Butler opened the scoring in the third quarter and Gaines’ basket in the middle of the frame made it a 42-18 advantage. Even though the Lady Jackets made just one shot the rest of the third, they held a 45-25 lead heading to the fourth and the cushion was more than enough.
Denison took control in the final four-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter. Frisco Memorial was matching Denison for the most part until that point — Nixon hit a three and Alexander immediately responded with one of her own and then Jada Mathews’ three-pointer was canceled out by Deffebaugh’s three-point conversion.
That pulled the Lady Warriors within four points at 19-15 and it turned out to be their last offense for the half. Memorial made just five shots in two quarters but three of them were threes.
Denison closed the quarter on a 14-0 run with all seven buckets coming in the paint. Gaines had three of them, including a pair of putbacks, and Fry had the other four on layups — including one with 22 seconds left for a 33-15 advantage at the break.
The teams were almost even after the first quarter. Denison jumped to a quick 7-0 lead behind Gaines, Butler and Fry before Memorial was only down 11-9 following the first eight minutes thanks to three-pointers from Jordan Conerly and Alexander.