By Gene Phelps / NEMS Daily Journal
BELMONT – Russellville caught Belmont flat-footed in the first two minutes of Saturday’s Mississippi-Alabama Girls Shootout.
Lady Cardinals coach Chris Higginbottom quickly put a stop to the Alabama visitors’ opening 8-0 run with a timeout and an ear-burning pep talk.
“Everything was falling for them,” Belmont point guard Leslie Robinson said. “Coach called a timeout and told us to start scoring.”
He also had another message for his players: Play some defense!
Belmont (15-2) turned up its defensive pressure raced to a 79-46 victory on its homecourt.
Robinson scored 22 points, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and collected six steals to lead the defending 3A state champions against the 5A Alabama team.
“We knew we needed to get up and down the court and take it to them,” Robinson said. “We play good man-to-man defense. We were able to wear them down.”
Angelia Allen, a player Higginbottom calls his team’s most-improved player, led the Lady Cardinals with a 26-point effort.
Russellville (10-8) was led by post player Amber Elliott, who scored 23 points.
“We didn’t do a good job defensively at the start,” Higginbottom said. “But basketball’s a game of runs. They made their run and we made our run.
“We wanted to pressure them and make them earn every point they got.”
Belmont broke open the game early in the second quarter with a 14-0 run that took the score from 20-19 to 34-19. Domonique Allen scored six of her nine points during the Lady Cardinals’ spurt.
Russellville never recovered.
Belmont’s road to the postseason doesn’t get any easier in the coming weeks. Next week’s three games feature two division games, against Alcorn Central and Ripley, and a non-division game against Pontotoc.
The game against Pontotoc starts a season-ending string that features just one home game and seven road games. One of those games is on a neutral court against 6A Tupelo.
“It’s going to be a good test, a measuring stick for us,” Higginbottom said. “We’re going to see where we actually are. At this point of the year, you need to be playing your best ball.”
In Saturday’s other girls games: Covenant (Ala.) Christian 54, Thrasher 36; Corinth 57, Haleyville, Ala. 32; Blue Mountain 45, Shoals (Ala.) Christian 41; J.Z. George 58, Bruce 43; Red Bay, Ala. 41, North Pontotoc 38; Amory 68, Mantachie 51.
• Game summary, Page 2B