The showmanship GPS and Cleveland displayed in the open court in Friday's girls' championship game in the Times Free Press Best of Preps basketball tournament had the capacity crowd buzzing at various times. But below the basket there was an undersized forward going about her business and doing a steady job all the time.
That was GPS's Simone Busby, who banged her way around the post area seeking openings in the Lady Blue Raiders' defense. Her night's work ended with 23 points and the most valuable player trophy as the Bruisers beat Cleveland 59-42.
GPS (12-1) has been in the tournament each of its six years, winning it for the first time last year. Coach Susan Crownover said her seniors -- Busby is one -- took some lumps in the event when they were young but learned and benefited from the experience.
"Winning this tournament means a lot," Crownover said. "They love the atmosphere. Everybody in town is here. I guess you could say this is for bragging rights."
Cleveland (7-7) is the young and up-and-coming team now, although coach Mindy Kiser didn't use that as a crutch.
"The first semester is over," Kiser said. "We're not young anymore."
Bruisers guards Chadarryl Clay and Brianna Farris displayed an array of tricky dribbles and fancy passes periodically Friday, and Cleveland sharpshooter Nora Berry dropped in four 3s, a couple from NBA range. Then there was Busby, doing the dirty work among taller defenders.
"After the first half I think I had gotten my shot blocked about five times," said Busby, who still managed 10 first-half points and helped GPS to a 24-16 lead. "Then I realized I just needed a little space to get my shot off."
Busby added that teammates setting screens helped in that area, and the guards were looking to get the ball to her.
"When we went to the locker room at halftime, I challenged them a little bit," Crownover said. "I challenged them to rebound better. I challenged Simone to be the player she can be inside. She was frustrated. I told her to use her quickness, go around them and make them foul you."
Busby and teammate Jeneh Perry had a basket each at the start of the third quarter, prompting a timeout from Kiser 43 seconds into the half, hoping to kill momentum. The Lady Raiders responded with a field goal inside by Qetuwrah Abdullah-Mohammad, but after another low-post basket by Perry and a three-point play by Busby, the lead was never less than nine the rest of the way.
Clay, an Auburn signee, had 14 points for the Bruisers. Tory Kemp added eight.
Berry finished with 14 points and Hallea McClendon contributed eight off Cleveland's bench.
"They have extremely talented players," Kiser said of the Bruisers. "They've played together a long time, a lot of them. They understand each other and understand what their coach wants. They do a great job. I thought our kids played hard for three days. We just wanted work hard every possession of every game."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.