Not coincidentally, the Bradley Central High School girls' basketball team's level of play increased dramatically when Brooke Copeland entered Tuesday's game at Baylor.
Normally that's at the outset. But against the Lady Red Raiders it was about four minutes in -- a frustrating four minutes for the Bearettes, who eventually pulled away and won 57-39.
Bradley Central coach Jason Reuter said the reason he didn't start Copeland, a 6-foot-2 University of Florida signee, was because of an "in-house" situation. She came in at the 4:02 mark of the first quarter with the Bearettes trailing 9-2.
Copeland managed to convert two free thows and make a basket in the low post before the first quarter ended. Bradley then took its first lead at 12-11 when a turnover at midcourt led to a layup by Halle Hughes.
The score was 14-14 before the Bearettes ended the half with a 6-0 run, and they led the rest of the way. Copeland had the first four of those closing six points on the way to scoring 25. She also finished with 16 rebounds and was 10-of-12 at the free-throw line before missing her last two.
"Obviously she means that much to us," Reuter said. "But it's a team sport. It took us a long time before we took a lead. We came out not ready to play. I don't know if it was the change in the starting lineup or what."
Bradley (9-2), which ended up 22-of-27 from the line, scored 21 points in the third quarter. That was a point more than it totaled in the first half, and the lead was 41-28 going to the fourth.
"Quite frankly, we started taking care of the ball a little bit. We had people throwing the ball all over the gym," said Reuter, whose team went from having 13 turnovers in the first half to making seven after halftime -- and a few of those were while reserves played out the final couple of minutes.
"We valued the ball a lot more in the second half. You only get so many trips down the floor in a high school game. You can't have ridiculous unforced turnovers."
The pace of the game suited Baylor coach John Gibson. But the Lady Raiders had trouble matching up with Copeland and 6-3 post player Rebecca Reuter -- a Middle Tennessee State signee who contributed 10 points and 12 rebounds.
"We wanted to get the game up and down," Gibson said. "We were trying to keep their big girls from getting involved. Anybody that plays them I think is going to have to try to play that way. They're two Division I prospects and they know how to play. Copeland can step out and hit the 3, and Reuter's got that free-throw-line jumper. They're really good shooters and they pass the ball well between themselves."
Reuter and Copeland combined for five blocks, but the Lady Raiders had plenty of chances to score inside that often didn't materialize. Abby Hubert led Baylor (5-5) with 11 points.
"I think we shot too quickly," Gibson said. "It was what they did to us mentally, not physically. They didn't block a lot of shots."
The victory was Bradley's 16th consecutive over Baylor since losing 47-46 in overtime on Nov. 28, 2007.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.