By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — Whether it’s boys or girls basketball no team in the area has a trio of players as strong and vital to a team’s success as the Lady Bobcats.
There was no public declaration that they were taking their talents to North Port High School, and nobody had to move from Cleveland. But Alexis Francavilla, Aryana Hough and Emani Jefferson make up the best “Big Three” in town.
The Bobcats will rely on them Thursday night when they travel to Lakewood Ranch for the Region 8A-3 quarterfinals.
Individually, they all have their own unique roles, but combined, they’re putting up statistics any coach would want from a trio. In 23 contests this season, they’ve combined to average 42.9 points, 29.0 rebounds, 8.0 steals and 7.2 assists per game.
The biggest contributor is Francavilla.
A double-double machine who controls the paint, she’s averaging 16.3 rebounds per game. Of those rebounds, 7.3 come off the offensive glass, which the 6-foot junior uses to collect many of her 17.6 points per game.
It’s important to note that not all schools enter their stats on Maxpreps, but of the ones who do, Francavilla’s 22 double-doubles this season are the ninth-best in the nation, and her rebound total ranks 22nd. She also broke the school record for single-season rebounds a couple of games ago when she collected her 358th board of the year (she now has 374).
“She’s been a producer this year, and next year I expect her to be even better,” coach Dale Huffman said. “I was just looking at the numbers today. She already has 800 points, so she’s going to be a 1,000-point scorer. She’s already over 800 rebounds, so she’s going to break that career record easily.”
Hough, another junior, is the scrappy, lock-down defender.
She’s getting 2.8 steals per game, and comes away with 6.9 rebounds a night from the guard position. She also takes great pride in the defensive side of her game, where she’s often tasked with guarding the opposition’s best player.
“That’s just my signature,” Hough said. “I tend to keep them down in points.
“A lot of it is defense. If Franc isn’t in, I’ll fill in for her role. Franc gets most of the rebounds and putbacks, but I’m there if she needs it.”
Hough also is averaging 11.0 points and 2.3 points per game.
The biggest surprise of the trio is Jefferson, who’s only a freshman.
Scoring 14.3 points per game with 6.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.7 steals, Jefferson already is the owner of a pair of school records. She dished out a single-game-best eight assists in the season finale against Charlotte. She’s also the only freshman to ever score more than 300 points at North Port.
Her success so far has even surprised her.
“I was scared to be on varsity because I thought the girls would be really, really good,” Jefferson said. “I’ve practiced with (my teammates) and if I can play with them I can play with anyone.”
Of course, basketball is more than just a three-person sport. There’s a surrounding cast contributing, too.
Nykevia Blakeney provides 5.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Kamryn Nazario chips in with 4.9 points and 2.3 assists. Jenna Gonzalez adds 2.5 points.
They’ll all have their hands full against Lakewood Ranch (24-3). The Mustangs have a quartet of players who combined are averaging nearly 50 points per game.
Last game: Lost 36-32 to Cape Coral.
Opponent: Clearwater (20-5)
When/where: 7 p.m. tonight at Clearwater High School
Outlook: The Tarpons are coming off a tough loss against the Seahawks in a game that was tied as late as the final two minutes. If Charlotte can shake off that district-championship heartbreaker, it stands a chance to take down Clearwater. Look for Kelyn Moses, who scored three points last time out, to have a bounce-back performance.