By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – Itawamba AHS was expecting plenty of Quinndella Ford, Kayla Russell and Marlee Hatcher in Friday’s Division 1-4A game against Pontotoc.
Instead, the Lady Indians got a healthy dose of Lanikki McMillian.
In a little Friday the 13th switcheroo, Pontotoc coach Bill Russell started the 5-foot-11 junior post player to counter Itawamba’s strong inside presence. McMillian responded with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead the unbeaten Lady Warriors to a 62-48 victory.
“I just ran the baseline and stayed in the lane,” McMillian said. “I was able to shoot my short corner shot. I like this lineup. We played hard. We knew it was going to be a tough game.”
Pontotoc, ranked No. 8 in the state, improved to 18-0 overall and to 5-0 in the division. IAHS slipped to 13-6 and 4-1 after suffering its first league loss.
“We changed our lineup tonight for Itawamba,” Russell said. “They play big. I didn’t feel like, offensively, we needed to go small against them.
“Nikki had a nice game. She played within herself. She knocked down shots when she was open.”
Russell also changed strategy, going with a 1-3-1 zone instead of his trademark full-court man press.
“We expected them to play man, but we prepared for a zone,” IAHS coach Amanda Morrow said. “We didn’t execute on offense. We couldn’t contain them on defense.
“That wasn’t our best effort of the year.”
Ford, the Ole Miss signee, had an expected productive night. She scored 19 points, grabbed 10 boards and had six assists, five to McMillian.
“We had numbers in transition and Quinn’s hard to guard one-on-one,” Russell said. “She got to the rim and finished some and she assisted Nikki several times.”
Pontotoc, thanks to 3-pointers from Hatcher, Russell and Anna Rosenbaum, took a 19-4 lead in the first quarter. A baseline jumper by McMillian midway in the second quarter made it a 25-7 game.
Quay Dunn scored six of her team-high 14 points in the first half to help the Lady Indians’ cut Pontotoc’s halftime lead to 27-16.
IAHS rallied early in the third quarter to cut the Lady Warriors’ lead to 31-24 on a driving layup by Kim Mallory.
Pontotoc responded with three straight Ford baskets, all hard drives for layups. Russell also helped with a pair of 3-pointers.
“That’s what Quinn can do; she’s a great player,” Morrow said. “They moved the ball well on offense and shot hot tonight.”