THORNDALE, Texas — Italy's Lady Gladiators' asserted their growing position in girls' 2A high school basketball with Thorndale Holiday Tournament opening wins Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons at THS Gymnasium.
"We're a really good team when our defense plays like that," said Decorea Green, the Lady Gladiators' dynamic 5-foot-2 senior combo guard. "We feed off each other, get down the floor and hold leads in games. Most importantly, we play defense well and force turnovers and teams to play at our pace rather than theirs. I think that stood out during both [Wednesday] games. It's how our offense starts. It's how hard for teams to ."
Behind the strength of 121 points in two games, District 19-2A Italy High School (17-3, 1-1) secured 59-51 and 62-56 victories against Groesbeck and Thorndale High Schools and won its fourt consecutive game and nine of the last 11.
The Lady Gladiators moved into the title game, after press time, after a win against Caldwell High School.
It was Italy's second opportunity to claim a tournament win this season.
Green scored nine points in the tournament opener on 3-for-5 shooting from the field, adding to Aarion Copeland's 12-point and 15-rebound double-double and Emmy Cunningham's 17-point, seven-rebound, six-assist near triple-double.
Cunningham, who lead all scorers, also blocked three shots and had two steals. In addition to Copeland, Cunningham and Green's scoring, Shaniya Johnson (9 pts) and Brycelen Richards (6 pts) nearly reached double figures.
Their ability to create offense with opportunistic defense was also evident against the Lady Goats — especially with game steals leaders Copeland and T'Keyah Pace.
Powered by Copeland (6 stls), Pace (4 stls), Richards (3 stls), Green (2 stls) and Cunningham (2 stls), the Lady Gladiator defense created more than 20 turnovers for the 10th time this season.
They also held Groesbeck's leading scorer to 12 points.
REMAINING UNDEFEATED IN THORNDALE
Head Coach Laquita Walker said her team's effort was a continuance against a Thorndale team that had home-court advantage and lost only two games during the new season
Instead of slow their advance through the tournament because of it breakneck schedule, however, Walker and the Lady Gladiators increased it.
"It shows how determined they are, despite the unforced turnovers," Walker said about beating a team on their home court on the heels of a win only three hours before. "We had a lot of turnovers [against Groesbeck], but they were unforced errors that came from over-effort. They came from triying and I can accept that — a little. They knew they came out sluggish during the first game and into the second with the mindset all they had to do was leave it all on the floor. They did that and helped us get to the semifinal round of a tough tournament."
Two players — Copeland (24 pts, 17 rebs) and Cunningham (21 pts, 10 rebs) — posted double-doubles and Green (11 pts, 8 rebs) nearly posted a third.
Outside of Thorndale junior Kylie Buchanan (20 pts), Italy held the nine other players to nine or fewer points. During the first and fourth quarters — the Lady Bulldogs lowest scoring quarters — Buchanan tallied zero and eight points.
CRUISING PAST MOULTON
To get to the two-day tournament's title game, one of the obstacles on the list was UIL 1A Moulton High School (14-4) and its Texas Association of Basketball Coaches' No. 24 ranked Lady Bobkatz.
"Finishing [games] is something we've been working on," Walker said. "Two girls fouled out of the game and we had to rely heavily on our reserves. To do what they did against a competitor like Moulton was big for us. It showed the amount of heart they have and how much they've grown during this early part of the season."
Italy used the tune of 22 points from Cunningham, 19 from Copeland and another nine-point performance from Green and a 10-point halftime lead to seal its entrance into the championship game.
The Lady Gladiators won 57-55 despite allowing leading scorers Erin Blaschke (21 pts) and Malori Mitchon (20 pts) to score 74 percent of their team's total points in four quarters of basketball and allowing Moulton to score 31 points in the second half.
Italy is scheduled to play Rogers High School at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at THS Gymnasium in the tournament finale.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusMarionWNI.