published Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

McMinn Lady Cherokees drop Rhea County to 7-1, 66-40

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    HALEY WARD
    Photo by Jenna Walker.
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ATHENS, Tenn. -- Alisa Guardiola played a big part in giving McMinn County a healthy first-half lead in its District 5-AAA basketball game against Rhea County on Tuesday. Then she played a different role: decoy.

Three Lady Cherokees scored in double figures as McMinn handed the Lady Golden Eagles their first loss of the season, 66-40.

Guardiola finished with 17 points, 11 in the first half. A trio of second-quarter 3s prompted Rhea coach Shane Johnston to call for a box-and-one on the lanky junior. That opened lanes for Keke Smith, who scored nine of her game-high 21 points in the first 16 minutes.

Haley Ward scored 15 of her 17 points in the second half. McMinn had nine assists on 10 made baskets in the first half and finished with 14 assists to only nine turnovers. Guardiola and Ward each had four helpers.

"I thought that was the key to the game," McMinn coach Tim McPhail said. "Sometimes when teams go to a box-and-one, players will still focus on trying to get her the ball. We hid Alisa in the corner and tried to get her some shots, but with Haley and Keke, it's hard to guard us four-on-four."

McMinn (6-3, 3-1) opened an 11-point lead after a quarter and maintained it, leading 25-14 at halftime. After the Lady Cherokees controlled much of Friday's game against Cleveland but lost, McPhail was much more pleased by what he saw Tuesday.

"We talked about how important it was to come out and make a statement tonight," McPhail said. "Rhea County is a much improved team, but when you can rebound from a tough district loss when you should have won, it shows a lot about the determination and will of these girls."

While McMinn led for 30 minutes of game time, Rhea (7-1, 3-1) was plagued by a slow start. The Lady Eagles had 13 turnovers in the first 16 minutes, and after a 12-2 McMinn run to start the second half, never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.

They missed on several open opportunities, both on layups and at the foul line, where they finished 11-for-20. Julie Brown had 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Amber Levi had 10 points.

"I think they hit us in the mouth out of the gate and we never really answered that," Johnston said. "Their guard play and defensive pressure was more intense than ours, and we didn't answer the call.

"Things snowballed a little and we didn't get clean looks. We were out of rhythm all night, and you can credit McMinn for that. We're not going to quit, though; we don't get too high after wins or too low after losses.

"We'll start getting better tomorrow."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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