Girls basketball: Lakewood returns to state semifinals

Coach Necole Tunsil and the Lakewood girls basketball team celebrate their win  against Robinson. (Zack Wittman, Special to the Times)
Coach Necole Tunsil and the Lakewood girls basketball team celebrate their win against Robinson. (Zack Wittman, Special to the Times)
Published February 23

TAMPA — New season, same result.

For the second straight year, Lakewood traveled to Robinson for the Class 6A region final. And like last season, the Spartans overcame a slow start to blow past the Knights, 83-52.

Lakewood (26-4) will play on Wednesday at 8 p.m. against Plantation American Heritage in the state semifinals in Lakeland. That is familiar territory for the Spartans, who advanced to the state final last season.

"This is Round 2 against (Robinson) and they thought they were going to win," said Lakewood guard Diana Rosenthal, who had a team-high 24 points. "We wanted to make a statement early on that that wasn't going to happen."

The Spartans played the entire game Friday at a frantic pace that included a full-court press. The press worked in building a 16-7 lead midway through the first quarter. Rosenthal had four layups during that span, three of which came off of steals from the press.

But Robinson (22-3) fought back. With top scoring threat Toi Smith on the bench with two fouls, the Knights were able to rally thanks to a 10-0 run. Lakewood only led 18-17 after one quarter and trailed 21-20 early in the second. Then the Spartans started rolling.

Nykisha Macon hit two straight 3-point shots to make it 28-21. Rosenthal and Paris Williams started getting easy layups off turnovers. Smith returned and made two key baskets. By halftime, Lakewood was up 48-27 and outscored Robinson 30-10 in the second quarter.

"I didn't have any worries," Lakewood coach Necole Tunsil said of getting down early. "I got off the bus very confident. We were ready and we knew the outcome of this game."

With a 21-point lead, the second half was basically a formality. Williams and Rosenthal kept scoring and Robinson continued to play hard. Kaliah Henderson led the Knights with 31 points, 19 of which came in the second half.

Lakewood's depth proved to be too much to handle. Williams finished the night with 17 points. Macon scored 14 points and Jaylynn Presley had 11. Smith, who usually carries the scoring load, had nine points. Sophomore center Macey Zeh-Arndt chipped in with eight points.

"We've been playing like this since about halfway through the season," Tunsil said. "Everybody has been able to contribute.

"I take my hat off to Robinson, they are a very good team and Kaliah Henderson is an awesome player. But they didn't have what we have. They were not as deep."

In Lakewood's three region tournament games, they have won by an average of 51 points. The Spartans are trying to win their first state title since 2011.

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