By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
LAKEWOOD RANCH — North Port’s girls basketball team hung with Lakewood Ranch as long as it could Thursday night, but the relentless Mustangs defense proved too much for the Bobcats.
Lakewood Ranch ran away in the second half after a competitive first 16 minutes for a 55-35 Region 8A-3 quarterfinal victory.
“We had a plan. We executed it in the first quarter, and after that, we didn’t,” North Port coach Dale Huffman said.
Things changed in the second quarter. North Port (14-10) managed to cut into the deficit and draw within 17-15 midway through the quarter.
Lakewood Ranch, however, scored the game’s next 13 points, a run that wasn’t stopped until Aryana Hough hit a free throw just before halftime to get the visitors within 30-16 at the break.
Surprisingly, Mustangs leader LaDazhia Williams was a non-factor in the win for Lakewood Ranch (25-3). Averaging 9.2 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, Williams was held scoreless and boardless by Alexis Francavilla in limited playing time.
Williams has been ill recently, and didn’t play at in the second half.
“LaDazhia has been sick for the last three days,” Lakewood Ranch coach Tine Hadley said. “I asked her today when she came to school. She said she felt better, but I could see in the first three minutes of the game she needed to sit down.”
Without Williams, the Mustangs back court took control, as Lakewood Ranch forced 17 first-half turnovers.
The Fazio twins, Sarah and Emma, along with Shauntavia Green, played all around strong games. Their combined stat line of 29 points, 10 steals and 10 rebounds isn’t indicative of their influence on the game.
“Our guards can definitely get the job done. They work extremely hard on the defensive end of the floor,” Hadley said.
Those three disrupted the flow for North Port’s guards, who couldn’t get the ball inside, either for themselves or to Francavilla, with consistency, and settled too often for long shots.
Francavilla still ended with 10 points and 13 rebounds to tally her 23rd double-double of the season.
Freshman Emani Jefferson has not performed like a first-year player all season, but looked like one in the first half.
“Nerves. Nerves. Nerves. Nerves. That’s what it was,” Huffman said. “She wanted to go out there and prove she’s every bit the player, and she just over did it and tried too hard. She stopped doing the things she usually does.”
Jefferson had six turnovers in the first quarter, and ended the night with double-digit giveaways. She totaled seven points, six steals and three rebounds. Hough scored nine points with eight rebounds.
LAKEWOOD RANCH 55, NORTH PORT 35
North Port 9 7 9 10 — 35
LW Ranch 13 17 15 10 — 55
North Port (35): Alexis Francavilla 10, Hough 9, Jefferson 7, Blakeney 4, Nazario 3, Gonzalez 2. Totals: 14(1) 6-11 35.
Lakewood Ranch (55): Shauntavia Green 16, Kay. Bell 7, Kai. Bell 7, E. Fazio 7, McKinon 7, S. Fazio 6, Robinson 4. Totals: 21(2) 11-14.