MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Kimora Fields walked into the locker room at Middle Tennessee State University's Murphy Center late Saturday afternoon rocking a pair of cool shades.
It was a fitting look for Bradley Central High School's superstar forward, who had just helped lead the Bearettes to the seventh TSSAA gold ball trophy in program history and was named MVP of the Class 4A tournament at the BlueCross State Championships. And in the 58-49 title win against Memphis program Bartlett, the 6-foot freshman was poised beyond her years to help the Bearettes finish 35-1.
Fields, whose talent showed throughout the season, didn't back down from 6-foot-5 North Carolina State signee Mallory Collier in the first quarter Saturday, scoring nine points in the period — half of what would be her game-high 18 on 8-of-10 shooting — including a trio of baskets while getting fouled, twice on turnaround fadeaway jumpers.
Before the game, the biggest yet of her career, Bradley Central coach Jason Reuter had turned to Fields and asked if she was nervous. She didn't flinch, and her answer was a simple one: "No."
She then proved it, making an impact in numerous ways beyond scoring as she added five rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks to her stat line. It was the extension of her tournament success in Murfreesboro, where she finished 20-of-27 from the field for a combined 51 points in wins over Bearden on Wednesday, Cookeville on Friday and Bartlett to seal her school's latest title and the individual honor.
“I never really let the nerves get to me. I was trying to stay calm and focused on our team’s end goal,” said Fields, who finished the season with 609 points, 259 rebounds, 90 assists, 99 steals and 32 blocks while shooting 68.5% (254-of-371) in 36 games.
As for Collier, Fields said she went “right at her like I would anyone else. To win state and the MVP is a great feeling. I didn’t expect anything coming in. We came here as a team and played as hard as we could.”
The Bearettes built a 32-18 lead as their sophomore connection produced a big play when Avary Brewer collected one of her team’s 12 steals and threw ahead to Harmonie Ware for a fast-break layup with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
Bradley Central fans also exploded in celebration late in the third quarter, when Hannah Jones crashed hard down the left baseline to rise and swat away a Bartlett shot and spark a big offensive possession. On the other end, Fields drove the left baseline and, from under the basket, dished an assist to Brewer for her second 3-pointer from right in front of the Bearettes' bench.
Brewer scored 16 points — she was 8-for-11 at the foul line — and she followed her second and final 3 with two made free throws after Bartlett’s coach was assessed a technical foul for arguing an offensive foul. And with that, Bradley Central led 38-25 with 1:42 left in the third.
Jones, who also hit a big 3 at the top of the arc to build a double-digit lead, finished with 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
“How our season ended in the substate last season was really disappointing,” Jones said. “But we came back and went undefeated in the summer, and we played with the mindset we wouldn’t be denied this season. These memories are going to last forever. Going out with a win in my final game as a Bearette is the best thing ever.”
Fellow senior captain and fourth-year starter Sloan Carpenter also starred in her Bradley Central farewell. The floor general picked off four passes and also drained an important 3-pointer right before the break for a 21-16 halftime lead. Carpenter, Jones and fellow senior Shamiya Francis will all play college basketball for Johnson University near Knoxville.
The Lady Panthers (34-8) cut their deficit to 44-39 with 3:30 left, but they could not come any closer. Raven Sims and Carrington Jones each scored 12 points and combined for 10 steals, while Nevaeh Scott led the Lady Panthers with 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting and Collier had eight points and 10 rebounds as Bartlett finished with a 23-15 advantage on the glass.
This year’s one-loss state championship team is the Bearettes' most successful since the 1976 team under Jim Smiddy, which capped a 36-0 season by beating Smyrna 36-35 for the Class 3A title. That was the program's fifth crown — it followed titles in 1962, ’70, ’73 and ’75 — but then came a long break until 2019, when senior Hannah Lombard hit a 3-pointer before the final buzzer to beat Houston 46-44 for the 3A championship.
Now another gold ball trophy will make its home at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“There was a little more jubilation and dancing going on when Harmonie hit the game-winning shot against Bearden," Reuter said of Wednesday's quarterfinal that ended the opponent's undefeated season, "but this is as sweet as any win we’ve ever had.
“I told these girls that the championship in 2019 was great. It is the high of your life, and so is this one. Both state championships I have been a part of here are equal. Never could I put another championship over another.”
Asked to describe the season in one word, Reuter had a strong final remark on his 2022-23 team and the legacy it will leave.
“Purpose. These girls played with a purpose all year, and you see the end result,” said Reuter, who took over in 2010, after a losing season for the Bearettes. “We weren’t going to let a hair down until we got to this point. I am lucky to have to have the right players and a great group of assistant coaches.
“There are a lot of people that care about Bearette basketball. We are the winningest program in state history. Jim Smiddy started this, and I am blessed to carry it on.”
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org.