HPU women cruise in Big South opener
In an effort to break a two-game losing streak, High Point University women’s basketball coach DeUnna Hendrix shuffled the deck Friday night.
The changes helped the Panthers come up all aces in a 68-54 victory over Longwood in the Big South opener for both teams.
“That’s a huge confidence boost for us,” Hendrix said. “They won at Xavier. So that was no cakewalk team.”
The shuffling started with changes in the starting lineup, with Kaylah Keys and Lexi Patterson replacing Maja Michalska and Lindsey Puckett. The changes also included playing a 2-3 zone to force the Lancers to shoot from outside and prevent their leading scorer Daeisha Brown from slicing to the basket.
The Panthers (5-3) came out sharper on offense with much crisper ball movement and improvement in transition right from the start. Meanwhile, the Lancers settled for jump shots trying to break the zone and failed for much of the first 11 minutes, shooting wildly from outside.
The combination helped the Panthers take control early, breaking a 7-7 tie by going on a 20-2 run to lead 27-9 with just over 9:16 to go in half. The bulk of that damage came after HPU led 11-9. Longwood (3-4) failed to score on eight straight possessions over six minutes, launching at least three air balls, as HPU scored 16 straight points.
The margin soon reached 20. Longwood put together its best offensive stretch to get within nine with just under four minutes left in the half. But, the Panthers pushed the margin to 16 at the break, then tacked on the first eight points of the second half to make it 50-26 and cruised from there.
Keys helped sparked the first-half roll with 14 points on the way to 23 for the game. She also grabbed a career-high eight rebounds and dished a career-high five assists. Patterson, who did not take a shot in the second half, had nine points in helping the Panthers get off to their hot start.
“They had a good week of practice,” Hendrix said. “With Lexi, we needed another defender on the court from the start. Kaylah has had some great games and I needed her confidence. It was more a confidence thing, and Lexi and Kaylah have that right now.”
Keys said she was told at the pregame shootaround Friday afternoon that she was going to start.
“It was a surprise,” Keys said. “But it didn’t change the way I play. I’m going to play hard regardless.”
Keys hit 7 of 10 shots from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range and all six attempts at the free throw line.
“We just wanted to be more aggressive on offense,” Keys said.
HPU stayed in its 2-3 zone the entire way, holding the Lancers to 35.6 percent shooting and succeeding in derailing Brown, who came in averaging 18.8 points per game. She finished with a team-leading 13 points but made just 4 of 10 shots from the field and had just five points in the first half.
“That’s one of the rare times you will see us play zone for the entire 40 minutes,” Hendrix said. “But you are not going to see a kid quicker than Daeisha Brown, She is unbelievable off the dribble. So we changed some things up. I hate playing zone to be quite honest but we knew that was probably the best strategy tonight.”
Longwood countered by launching 30 shots from 3-point range over the zone, but hit just eight and was unable to force HPU into playing man-to-man.
“(Brown) is very good off the dribble in getting to the basket and free throw line,” Keys said. “So we went to the zone to have some containment (on Brown) and to make them make shots.”
Tayler Tremblay added 13 for the Panthers. Latrice Phelps also had nine and DeAnneshia Jackson eight.