The Cherokee High School girls basketball team needed a big play against Davenport Assumption on Monday night during a Class 3A quarterfinal.
It turned out that the Braves got three key scoring plays in a row.
The Braves defeated the Knights 63-43, but the score was much closer than that when the top seed in Class 3A started an 18-0 run to end the game.
Assumption's Ava Schubert scored a layup with 7 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the game.
Even though Schubert missed the shot, the main adjustment that the Braves made was defending Schubert by fronting her and by wearing the Knights' defense down.
"I thought that was the key to the game," Cherokee coach Brandon Slaughter said. "Our defense has been playing really solid throughout the season and it came through in the second half. We thought she was backing us down too much. We had to change something."
Then, the Braves defense forced the Knights to take some tough shots. Assumption missed its last 13 shots and it also turned the ball over nine times during the fourth quarter.
Cherokee outscored Assumption 18-2 during the fourth quarter to close out its quarterfinal win. The Braves will play West Lyon in a Class 3A semifinal at 2 p.m. Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Knights then missed on their next possession and that's when the key offensive run for the Braves came.
JeMae Nichols brought the ball down the floor, and saw Grace Anderson open inside the 3-point line on the right wing side.
Anderson paused for a second, then drove to the lane. She gave a shot fake, and that shot fake forced Schubert to jump in the air and attempt a block.
Anderson powered through Schubert, and she made the basket while being fouled.
The entire Braves bench — along with Slaughter — celebrated the shot.
Little did they know that the Braves were due for a couple more quick baskets.
Anderson missed her free throw, but Nichols was able to work around Maddy Nigey's blockout. She made the decision to go on the high side of Nigey, and her decision worked.
Nichols got around the Knights down low and she hit an open layup.
"I wasn't expecting to get a rebound, and I was happy about that," Nichols said. "I think that's something I do. I just felt like in that moment, it was a good thing for me to do. She wasn't paying attention of boxing me out."
The Knights were trying to inbound the ball, but Nichols tipped the inbounds pass. She grabbed the ball, and a couple passes later, Camille Zwiefel hit a layup from the right-hand side of the lane.
In a matter of 15 seconds, the Braves scored six quick points.
"That was just a great stretch," Slaughter said. "We knew if we could keep pressing them and wearing them down, that's been our goal all year long. We wanted to play fast, and hats off to my kids, they played so hard for me."
The Braves started out the game pretty strong, as they came out to a 16-8 lead during the first quarter.
Assumption made some adjustments from the first quarter into the second quarter, and chipped away at the lead.
The Knights used their length to make shots difficult in the paint, and when Cherokee was trying to get thee ball down the floor, the Knights took some gambles that paid off by either intercepting passes or tipping passes to get them out of rhythm.
Assumption decided to play a box-and-one on Alexis Pingel, which surprised her.
"Normally, I'm not the one getting faceguarded," Pingel said. "They had a really good girl guarding me. We ran the whole offense expecting them to faceguard JeMae, so when they started faceguarding me, I was really not expecting it. A couple of times, I drove. Sometimes the driving lane was open."
The Knights took their first lead with 3:25 left in the first half, and they led by as many as six points off a deep two-pointer by Schubert in the final minute of the first half.
Cherokee started the second half by scoring on each of its first three possessions of the third quarter. Nichols made a second-chance opportunity, Molly Pitts hit a 3-pointer off a flare screen, and Nichols made a fastbreak layup that put the Braves up 36-34.
Both teams traded leads back and forth during a couple minutes of the third quarter, and the Braves took the lead for good with 2:28 remaining off two made free throws by Kenna Mongan.
Pingel led the Braves with 23 points and was one rebound shy of a double-double.
Nichols earned a double-double, as the University of Sioux Falls basketball recruit scored 14 points and had 10 rebounds. She also had five steals.
Cherokee made 40 percent of its shots and went 5-for-18 from the free-throw line.
WHO: Cherokee vs. West Lyon
WHEN: 2 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
STREAM: IGHSAU's YouTube page
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