Saturday’s Class 5 girls basketball state quarterfinal was the ultimate case of bending but not breaking.
Lee’s Summit North even lost the lead for a brief moment in the fourth quarter, and senior forward Jaden Powell was minus a tooth after she got knocked to the floor while trying to receive an inbound pass in the final minute. But the Broncos displayed enough grit to survive nine second-half turnovers and hold on for a 49-44 victory over North Kansas City at the Independence Events Center.
“My heart was definitely beating,” said senior forward Imani Johnson, who grabbed some clutch rebounds and hit 7 of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter to help keep the Broncos in front despite some shaky offense down the stretch. “It was pretty intense there that fourth quarter; we had to keep our heads together.”
The Broncos take a 23-5 record into Thursday’s 3:30 p.m. state semifinal matchup against Eureka (26-2) at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. It marks North’s first final four appearance since a state title in 2002 capped three straight trips.
“It’s been a long time waiting,” said Johnson, the school’s all-time leading scorer. “It took four years to prepare for this.”
Their ticket to Columbia could have been half-punched at halftime, as North took a 27-16 lead into the locker room after limiting North Kansas City (19-10) to just 5-of-25 shooting.
After the Hornets scored the game’s first two baskets, Johnson and Erica Nelson scored seven points each to help the Broncos to an 18-10 lead at the first stop, and Powell’s layup made it 23-10 past the midway point of the second.
Aries Washington’s offense and Kianna Lane’s pesky perimeter defense fueled the Hornets’ second-half comeback. Washington had six points in a 10-0 run to open the third, as the Broncos went nearly five minutes without a point.
“She would stop-and-pop in an instant,” North coach Tricia Lillygren said of Washington, “and she’d make it most of the time.”
Lane’s steal led to a Washington layup to cap that stretch, and another steal resulted in Lane’s free throw to tie it at 32 late in the third. When Washington opened the fourth quarter with a jumper, it gave Northtown a 34-33 lead.
“What we talked about at halftime was taking it possession by possession,” North Kansas City coach Jeff Lacy said. “You could tell in their eyes they believed they could come back.
“The shot quality we got toward the end of the game, I’m extremely pleased with. Unfortunately when we needed it the most, we couldn’t get them in the basket.”
The Broncos got the ball to Johnson for five straight points, retaking the lead for good. When Nelson secured a rebound and sank both ends of a one-and-one with less than four minutes remaining, it gave them a 41-36 edge.
North committed three turnovers over the next few minutes and lost senior point guard Nelson due to fouls in the process, but Powell’s offensive rebound of a missed a free throw killed some valuable clock. Powell’s injury came after Selena Salas’ baseline jumper that pulled the Hornets within 44-42 with 44 seconds left. Johnson then hit three free throws sandwiched around Salas’ missed 3-pointer to provide some cushion.
“They had their run. We just had to respond and make our own,” said Johnson, who finished with a game-high 22 points and snared six rebounds. “I did what I had to do. I needed to make ’em, and I made ’em.”
“They put pressure on the perimeter, and we were very fortunate to have that dry spell and win,” Lillygren said. “You didn’t know what was going to get called a foul. It’s nothing against the officials; it was just a very physical game.
“It’s always tough when you lose your point guard, but we got enough bounces to go our way. We didn’t handle the ball as well and we didn’t make as good of passing decisions. We were able to get enough free throws to make it a non-factor in the last seconds.”
Nelson finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists for the Broncos, Powell snatched 10 rebounds, Stevie Anderson pitched in nine points and Aaliyah Johnson added five rebounds.
Washington’s 16 points, 10 rebounds and two assists led North Kansas City. Lane added 10 points and four steals and Salas had nine points.