Gainesville’s girls basketball team has seen its share of tough defensive pressure throughout the course of the 2022-23 season.
However, it’s doubtful the Lady Red Elephants experience the kind of smothering coverage that No. 3 Lovejoy threw at them in their Class 6A state quarterfinal matchup.
The combination of 18 turnovers and a sizeable advantage on the boards from the host Lady Wildcats was too much for Gainesville to overcome in a 79-34 loss Tuesday night at Lovejoy.
Senior Keidra Young ended her career with a solid night of 16 points and eight rebounds, but points were hard to come by all night for the Lady Red Elephants, who saw their season come to an end at 23-6.
“They’re very talented all the way around,” Gainesville girls coach Vanessa White said of Lovejoy (25-5), which put four players in double figures, led by a huge night from Bryanna Preston (26 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals), to advance to the semifinals to meet sixth-ranked Brunswick on Saturday in Carrollton. “They made their shots. They did a good job with midrange jump shots, and they did a good job of pressuring us and causing us to turn the ball over, which gave them some easy buckets.”
White’s latter point showed up during three major Lovejoy runs in the first half that helped put the game out of reach.
Gainesville was able to stay close throughout most of the first quarter, pulling as close as 10-8 after Keidra Young converted Keke Jones’ inbound into a layup with 2:27 left in the opening frame.
But Lovejoy turned up its defensive pressure with Preston and La’nya Foster each converting a steal into a layup on the other end to key an 8-0 run over the final 2:15 of the quarter to stretch the Wildcats’ lead to 18-8.
Young tried to keep Gainesville within striking distance early in the second quarter by driving in for a layup and converting a three-point play with a free throw just 14 seconds in to bring the Red Elephants to within 18-11.
Once again, however, the Lady Wildcats were able to quickly turn defense to offense in the second quarter.
Three baskets in transition, all off turnovers, highlighting a run of 11 straight points that pushed the lead up to 29-11 with 3:15 left in the first half.
With the score 31-13, Gainesville attempted one last run, which Young scoring off a nice feed from Julia Payne, and then stealing the inbound before scoring again to pull the Lady Red Elephants to get within 31-17 with 2:27 left in the half.
But Lovejoy had yet another answer, with Preston and Foster once again doing most of the damage.
After Preston set up India McIntosh for a layup with 2:15 left, the 5-foot-10 junior delivered what amounted to the knockout blow by scoring the final 10 points of the half, with seven of those coming off the fastbreak to send the Lady Wildcats into intermission with a 43-17 lead.
It was a hole that was simply too big for the Red Elephant to climb out of, which ended a remarkable run throughout the first two rounds of the state tournament that has White optimistic of the direction of the program following her first season as coach.
“I told our girls, especially our seniors, they kind of laid the foundation to what the expectation is for the future. We want to make sure we go out and train in the spring, train in the summer, kind of similar to what our seniors did (last summer).
“Our girls just have to buy into that so that we can get back to this (round) or even go further next year.”
While Young was the only Gainesville player in double-figure scoring, the Lady Red Elephants also got contributions from Keke Jones, who finished with seven points and three assists, and Mattie White, who pulled down six rebounds.
Also joining Preston in double figures for Lovejoy was Foster (16 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals) and Morgan Bone (10 points), while McIntosh had a solid game with eight points and 11 rebounds.