By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – If anyone thought for a second that Raymond High’s Valencia McFarland didn’t deserve the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year for the second consecutive year, they should have seen her play on Thursday night.
In one of the great Grand Slam single-game performances, McFarland erupted for 40 points to lead her Class 4A state champion Raymond team to a 71-59 victory over Class 3A state champion Belmont in an opening-round game of this year’s Grand Slam at the Mississippi Coliseum.
The Raymond senior hit six 3s on the night, including two pull-up buzzer beaters at the end of the first and third quarters.
“It seemed like everything she shot went in,” said Belmont post player Anna Brooke Page, who led her 33-2 team with 21 points.
Well, almost. McFarland, who signed with Ole Miss, was 6 of 8 behind the 3-point line and 16 of 21 overall from the field. She was 2 of 3 from the free-throw line.
Her performance made Leslie Robinson’s 4 of 6 3-point shooting for Belmont on Thursday night seem nonexistent.
“I was expecting a box-and-one, but they played off of me and I just took what they gave me,” McFarland said of Belmont defending her.
McFarland is lightning quick, but she hadn’t really shot that well from the outside in the video footage Belmont coach Chris Higginbottom saw of her.
“The first thing we wanted to make her do was make her beat us shooting the ball,” Higginbottom said. “And then after she made the first couple, we knew it was time to get out there on her.
“So we had to defend the 3. And then she started dribble penetrating. She was beating us from the outside and beating us in the inside, having a balanced attack.”
McFarland scored 20 points in the first half to lead her team to a 34-30 advantage at halftime. She scored 20 more in the second half, as the Lady Rangers (31-1) led by as many as 17 points in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
But the Belmont defense wasn’t that bad on Thursday night. After all, the Lady Cardinals held Southern Miss commitment Janairrika Bland in check for much of the game.
The 6-foot-3 Raymond player did score 14 points, but she didn’t have as near a dominating performance down low as she did against Lafayette in the Class 4A semifinals.
Higginbottom thought his team did a good job defending Raymond’s other players, but not nearly as as well of a job against McFarland, Raymond’s point guard. He pointed out that McFarland outscored the rest of the Raymond team combined, 40-31.
“She did some things that I was not aware she could do,” Higginbottom said.