The Lady Warriors shot the ball well early and led after the first quarter, but they struggled late against a taller team and had to settle for a 57-40 loss on their first trip to the Class AAAAAA state semifinals at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.
With the victory, North Gwinnett advanced to the state finals, where it will face archrival Norcross next Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
While North Cobb came up short in the semifinal, the Lady Warriors (27-4) will still remember this season as being the first year they won a region tournament and reached the final four.
“With 27 wins and four losses, we can’t ask for a whole lot more,” North Cobb coach Matt Williams said. “We overachieved (this season), and that’s exactly what we want to do.”
With four of North Cobb’s starters standing 5-foot-10 or shorter, there was only so much it could do against a North Gwinnett post led by 6-foot-3 Peyton Wooded and 6-2 Stephanie Amichia. Whitted ended up leading the Lady Bulldogs with 14 points, and Amichia finished a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
North Gwinnett dominated on the boards, with many coming on the offensive side. The Lady Bulldogs outrebounded North Cobb 40-15, turning many of the rebounds into second-chance points or putbacks. Joshlyn Belcher came away with 10 boards, and Maryland signee Lexie Brown, a McDonald’s All-American, pulled down seven more.
“They really hurt us off the boards,” Williams said. “We hit our shots early and couldn’t hit them late. The girls played hard and never gave up. (North Gwinnett’s) size just killed us.”
It also didn’t help that North Cobb missed more free throws than it made through the first three quarters. Normally a strong free throw shooting team, the Lady Warriors were 4-for-12 at one point in the third quarter before improving to 9-for-17 for the game.
North Cobb got into a shooting rhythm early and hit some 3-pointers to keep pace with North Gwinnett. The Lady Warriors were at their best when they ended the first quarter on a 6-2 run, with Kyrie’ Chandler hitting back-to-back 3s to give the Lady Warriors a 14-12 lead.
While North Cobb’s first-quarter lead was a small one, it managed to sustain it for much of the second quarter by playing solid defense.
Then it all changed when North Gwinnett began sinking 3s.
The Lady Bulldogs seized control of the game late in the second quarter when Whitted hit a pair of 3s to build a 29-23 lead. Alyssa Munlyn followed with a long jumper with 43 seconds left for an eight-point lead at the half.
“We were trying to get a flow of our offense, and (North Cobb was) playing a good matchup zone,” North Gwinnett coach Bryan Sellers said. “It took them a while to finally get used to it, and when we finally did, we started hitting our shots.”
North Cobb pressured North Gwinnett more in the third quarter and pulled within five points on a 3-pointer by Sierra Barrino. But once North Gwinnett adjusted, it went on an 8-3 run to end the third quarter with a 12-point lead, and the Lady Warriors couldn’t bounce back in the fourth.
Barrino led North Cobb with 12 points, and Chandler finished with 11.