NASHVILLE -- Not even practicing against a group of athletic boys from the school could prepare Briarcrest Christian's girls for the swarm of constant pressure that is the GPS basketball team.
Remembering how disruptive the Bruisers were in rallying to claim last year's Division II-AA state title, Briarcrest coach Lee Smith put together a group of boys to practice against in the days leading up to Friday's state tournament semifinal matchup.
It didn't help.
After clinging to a two-point halftime lead, GPS opened the third quarter with a 13-2 run, sparked by a frenzy of hands waving and in-your-face pressure. The result was a 65-51 win over top-ranked Briarcrest and a chance to win back-to-back state championships for the second time in program history, joining the 1999 and 2000 Bruisers.
"We haven't played anybody that put that kind of press on us all year," Smith said. "I think most of our girls remember what it was like, but it's just different when you don't see it on the court all year and then you try to prepare for it.
"They forced us to hurry shots, make bad passes and make mistakes we don't normally do. We just didn't react very well to it, especially in the second half. We lost to a very good team."
By midway through the third quarter, the Lady Saints looked frustrated and tired. And that's when the Bruisers really turned up the intensity, scoring nine points off turnovers in that period and building a 17-point advantage.
"Any time we see that look on the faces of whoever we're playing, like they've hit a wall and need a break, that's when we get a little extra motivated to get after them," said Bruisers senior Simone Busby, who finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. "Once it looked like we had them on their heels, we tried to speed them up as much as we could."
Put simply, aside from senior post Lauren Douglas, a Northwestern University signee, Briarcrest didn't have the athletes to match a GPS team that comes at opponents in waves. Four of the Bruisers' five starters have signed college scholarships -- Chadarryl Clay and Jeneh Perry to play basketball, Busby to play soccer and Tory Kemp to run track -- and the other, junior Brianna Farris, likely will sign somewhere next year as well.
"We like teams that challenge us," Clay said. "When it was close at halftime, we all just got together and said, 'OK, now let's get after them harder and see what happens.' We felt like if we got on a roll, especially to start the second half, that they would start to give up on themselves, and that's kind of what happened."