With the district tournament seedings settled beforehand, the thrill of Friday night’s showdown between Bradley Central and Ooltewah was gone before the opening tip off, at least as far as the Bears were concerned.
Coach Jesse Naydeley kept the fact that his Owls had already wrapped up the top spot in this week’s District 5-AAA Tournament from his squad to give incentive to play hard in hopes of going into the postseason on a high note.
The strategy, combined with Bradley’s knowledge it couldn’t claim the regular season title, worked to Ooltewah’s favor for a 44-30 victory as the Bears posted the lowest point total in coach Kent Smith’s 17 years at BCHS.
“It wasn’t so much what they (Ooltewah) did, but rather what we didn’t do,” bemoaned Smith. “We only had nine points (in the final 16 minutes), plus we gave up way too many offensive rebounds.”
“We’ve got to put this week behind us and get ready for the tournament, which should be a good one,” he declared. “The district (tournament) will be wide open. Everybody goes back to 0-0 and anybody could win it.”
Although the Bears are having to regroup for the postseason, the Bradley girls looked more like their old selves with a 69-29 “mercy rule” whipping of the Lady Owls to record their 37th straight victory over a 5-AAA opponent.
“I’m proud of the way these seniors went out (in their final regular season home game),” praised Bearette coach Jason Reuter. “Hopefully we’ll have a couple of more home games (in the opening round of the region and the TSSAA substate) for them to play here (at Jim Smiddy Arena).”
The fourth-ranked Bearettes (23-2, 12-0) wrapped up their second straight undefeated district slate and have not lost a regular season or tournament game to a 5-AAA opponent since January of 2011.
As the top seed in the district tournament this week at the Raider Dome, the Bradley girls will await the Walker Valley/Rhea County winner in Saturday’s semifinals.
Although the postseason gets underway Wednesday, the Bears (14-11, 8-4) won’t take to the hardwood untill Thursday evening, when they face sixth-seeded McMinn County (8-16, 3-9).
After coming into the week with hopes of a regular season title on the line when the Owls (17-8, 10-2) came to town, an upset on a last-second shot Tuesday night at Walker Valley meant Bradley could do no better than a No. 3 seed in this week’s District 5-AAA Tournament.
With both teams missing a starter for disciplinary reasons, the Bears had control early, limiting the Owls to just a game-opening 3-pointer in the first period while building a double-digit lead.
The visitors missed 13 straight shots while Bradley pumped in 13 points, including 3-pointers from senior Matt Whitmire, plus juniors Taylor Bentley and Baylor Terrell.
A switch turned in the second frame as the Bears made just one of their first seven shots while Ooltewah trimmed the lead to six points. The hosts righted the ship momentarily to maintain a five-point edge at the intermission.
Changing their defense from a zone to a man-to-man, the Owls came out of the break with a renewed energy with Ben Snider blocking a Bear shot and getting the ball out for a fastbreak basket by Tucker Bass to start the third frame. Bass then drained back-to-back 3s to sandwich a Whitmire shot from the lane as Ooltewah took the lead just over two minutes into the second half and never gave it back.
Whitmire hit another basket four minutes later to account for all of Bradley’s scoring in the frame, while the Owls went 8-for-11 from the field, including a trio of “treys,” in the eight-minute span for a 10-point advantage heading into the fourth period.
With the double-digit lead, Ooltewah slowed the tempo down in the final frame, taking just six shots from the field, making half of them. Meanwhile Bradley’s struggles continued as a pair of baskets by sophomore Daniel Clark and a free throw by senior Bryce Copeland was all the hosts could muster from their 13 shots.
“We couldn’t score in the second half. The basket had a lid on it,” commented coach Smith.
Whitmire was the only Bear to score more than five points, reaching double figures with 11 points, to go with a half dozen rebounds.
Copeland, who averages 20 a game, was held to just three points, while clearing five caroms and handing out a pair of assists. Bentley also netted just a lone 3-pointer and snagged a half dozen boards, while Terrell finished with five points and a couple of helps.
As a team, Bradley hit just 9-of-30 shots from in front of the arc and only 3-for-17 from beyond it for a 26 percent success rate.
Ooltewah had three players to net double figures as Antonio Jackson led the way with 15, followed by Bass with 11 and Andrew Ware with 10.
LADY OWLS 29
As has been their pattern lately, the Bradley girls started out a little slow, holding just a 15-13 edge at the first horn, but then turned it up the defensive pressure to hold Ooltewah (5-19, 2-10) to just 16 points the rest of the night.
After a surprisingly close opening period — Ooltewah 6-for-16 from the field with five turnovers, while Bradley went 7-for-15 with a half dozen miscues and both teams cleared nine rebounds — the rest of the game went as expected with the Bearettes steadily building their lead.
Taking advantage of eight Lady Owl turnovers and holding them without a field goal for nearly six minutes, Bradley led by 13 points at the half.
Ten more Ooltewah miscues in the third frame and hitting just two of the nine shots it was able to get off helped the Bearettes to stretch the lead to 20 heading into the final frame, where the hosts closed the game out with a 23-3 run.
Despite facing a fellow 6-foot-2 post in Ooltewah’s Leondra Barrett, the junior “Twin Towers” of Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter led the way for Bradley with a combined 32 points and 19 points. Copeland topped the effort with 20 points and a dozen caroms, plus had six steals and five assists. Reuter collected 12 points, seven boards, had a trio of steals and blocked three shots.
Senior Kayla Withrow drained a trio of “treys” on her way to 11 points, three rebounds and a pair of helps, while classmate Brandi Whitted garnered five rebounds, four points and three steals.
Junior point guard Whitney Donaldson added seven points and four assists to the victory, while junior Lindsey Davis and senior Baylor Carroll contributed six and five points respectively.
“We were able to get a lot of transition baskets off their (34) turnovers, most of which our defense caused,” coach Reuter assessed. “It’s been a while since we had a win like this and we needed it heading into the tournaments.”
Barrett netted a baker’s dozen (13) and grabbed nine rebounds for the Lady Owls.
Ooltewah 13 6 7 3 — 29
Bradley Central 15 17 14 23 — 69
LADY OWLS (29) — Leondra Barrett 13, Cooper 6, Cross 4, Kennedy 4, A. Jones 1, Hall 1, Taylor, Smith, Dudas, R. Jones, Young, Featherstone.
BEARETTES (69) — Brooke Copeland 20, Rebecca Reuter 12, Kayla Withrow 11, Donaldson 7, Davis 6, Carroll 5, Whitted 4, Thompson 2, Delane 2, Stallings, Pippenger.
3-POINTERS: Ooltewah 1 (Cooper); Bradley 4 (Withrow 3, Donaldson).
FREE THROWS: Ooltewah 6-of-12; Bradley 17-of-22.
RECORDS: Ooltewah 5-19, 2-10 District 5-AAA; Bradley 23-2, 12-0 District 5-AAA.
Ooltewah 3 13 19 9 — 44
Bradley Central 13 8 4 5 — 30
OWLS (44) — Antonio Jackson 15, Tucker Bass 11, Andrew Ware 10, Snider 4, Matson 4, Presley, Boyd, King.
BEARS (30) — Matt Whitmire 11, Terrell 5, Clark 4, Copeland 3, Bentley 3, Crisp 2, Cain 2.
3-point goals: Ooltewah 5 (Bass 3, Matson, Jackson); Bradley Central 3 (Whitmire, Bentley, Terrell).
Free throws: Ooltewah 3-of-4; Bradley Central 3-of-4.
Records: Ooltewah 17-8, 10-2 District 5-AAA; Bradley Central 14-11, 8-4 District 5-AAA.