When the third-ranked Bradley Central girls play basketball, the attention is usually centered on the “Twin Towers.”
Stealing the spotlight from the 6-foot-2 NCAA Division I prospects, the Bearette starting guard trio stepped to the forefront Friday night.
Senior wings Kayla Withrow and Brandi Whitted, plus junior point guard Whitney Donaldson, combined for 44 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds and five steals in an 87-45 blowout of Cumberland County in the Region 3-AAA opener at “The Jim” (Jim Smiddy Arena).
Withrow drained a half dozen 3-pointers on her way to a career-high 26 points.
“We did all aspects of the game well tonight,” declared Bradley head coach Jason Reuter after his team advanced to Monday’s region semifinals. “You always want to play your best, especially this (tournament) time of year and we did a good job of that tonight.”
“Our guards often get overlooked because of the big girls in the middle, but tonight they (Withrow, Whitted, Donaldson) really shined,” he praised. “This is a good dose of medicine heading into the semifinals.”
The District 5-AAA champion Bearettes (26-2) will face their oldest rival in Monday evening’s region semis at the Raider Dome — McMinn County.
The Lady Cherokees (20-8) earned their spot in the region Final Four with a last-second shot to knock off Coffee County 39-37 Friday evening in Manchester.
A battle between District 6-AAA rivals Cookeville (22-10) and White County (20-11) will highlight the other end of the bracket Monday evening.
The semifinal victors will square off for the region title Wednesday at 7 p.m., plus play in Saturday’s TSSAA substate games.
Bradley had a little extra incentive when it took the court against Cumberland County (10-22) Friday evening.
When the teams met in last year’s region championship game, a vicious elbow to the face of then District 5-AAA Player of the Year Caroline Smith knocked her out and sent her to the hospital.
Smith, who currently plays for nationally-ranked Lee University, suffered a concussion and had to have stitches in her mouth. She also missed the substate game two days later, during which the Bearettes were upset 44-43 by Lawrence County, costing them a state tournament berth.
“Our returning players remember what happened last year,” commented coach Reuter. “We didn’t talk about it in preparation for this game, but they remember what happened to their friend and what the result was.”
It appeared Cumberland knew what was coming as well as it conceded the opening tip off before Bradley started the onslaught.
Withrow opened the game with a sign of things to come with a 3-pointer from the wing as the Bearettes raced out to a 22-9 advantage when the opening period buzzer sounded.
Holding the Lady Jets scoreless for more than seven minutes, Bradley continued to tickle the twine in the second frame with an old-fashioned three-point play by senior Baylee Carroll just before the half putting the host up 48-13 at the intermission.
Although the running clock rule could have been invoked to start the second half, it wasn’t as the Cumberland County coach would not agree to it.
Conversely, Bradley scored 10 of the first dozen second half points to build the lead to 43 and led by 44 in the frame, including when the horn sounded.
With the mercy rule taking effect in the final eight minutes, Cumberland was able to out score the Bradley reserves 16-14.
The Bearettes cleaned the glass for 48 rebounds in the contest and gave up just nine offensive boards in 23 Lady Jet caroms.
Bradley’s offense was on fire, hitting 10-of-15 shots (66 percent) from beyond the arc and 25-of-45 (55 percent) from in front of it.
The Bearette defense held the visitors to just 33 percent from the field, including only 4-for-21 (19 percent) from 3-point land.
Withrow drained 6-of-9 shots from “distance” and 3-of-5 close in, plus both of her free throws for her career-high mark. She also dished out four assists.
Donaldson helped out with 15 points, connecting on 7-of-8 shots from the field, plus she also dished off four helps.
Whitted only had three points, but she handed out a half dozen “dimes,” pulled down six rebounds and copped a trio of steals.
The “Twin Towers” still stood tall with District Player of the Year Brooke Copeland posting a double-double, netting 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, plus Rebecca Reuter clearing 13 caroms and hitting 4-of-6 shots from the field for eight points.
Leading a bench production of 18 points, Carroll finished with nine points and three rebounds.
Pumping in 15 points more than in any other game this season, the 87 is the most scored by a Bearette team since Jan. 10 of last year when they put 90 on Rhea County.
“We did a good job of not forcing our offense and taking what the defense was giving us,” expressed coach Reuter. “We took care of the ball (only nine turnovers) and we played good defense.”
“After last year’s disappointment, only one thing is going to satisfy these girls — punching our ticket to the state tournament,” he added. “We won’t overlook anybody, including McMinn Monday night. If we don’t win that one, we’re done.”
Region 3-AAA opener
Cumberland County 9 4 16 16 — 45
Bradley Central 22 26 25 14 — 87
LADY JETS (45) — Gina Dick 23, Sommer 8, Sl. Vanwinkle 6, Teeple 4, Potter 2, Illes 2, Hyder, Lee, McLaughlin, Sk. Vanwinkle, Eldridge.
BEARETTES (87) — Kayla Withrow 26, Brooke Copeland 17, Whitney Donaldson 15, Baylee Carroll 9, Rebecca Reuter 8, Brandi Whitted 3, Maggie Thompson 3, Lindsey Davis 3, Taelor Hill 3, Mady Stallings, Kayla Delane, Lydia Pippenger.
3-point goals: Cumberland 4 (Dick 2, Sl. Vanwinkle 2); Bradley 10 (Withrow 6, Thompson, Donaldson, Hill, Davis).
Free throws: Cumberland 5-of-9; Bradley 7-of-12.
Records: Cumberland 10-22; Bradley Central 26-2.