Academy at the Lakes rolls over Land O'Lakes
LAND O’LAKES — A pair of state semifinalists squared off Thursday night. Class 2A's Academy at the Lakes returned six of their eight total players. The Gators moved up to Class 6A this season and graduated leading scorer Jhade Hayes.
It took less than two minutes for the AATL Wildcats to jump all over the host Gators, leaping out to a 9-0 lead, followed by a 25-4 first-quarter tally and a 56-20, running-clock second-half victory.
"We didn't show up to play," Gators coach Phyllis Crain said. "They (AATL) showed they were a state final four team tonight."
AATL's fast-paced offense and smothering, press defense overwhelmed Land O'Lakes in the opening minutes. Back-to-back steals and a 3-pointer by Audra Leipold put the Wildcats up 5-0 in the blink of an eye. Imani Thomas found just the right spot in the middle of the paint to pick off three steals, just in the first quarter.
"They're trained to know that when the ball's in a particular spot, they try to cover all lines of vision," Wildcat coach Karim Nohra said.
Luz Santiago was 2-for-2 beyond the arc in the first period and it broke with the Wildcats up 25-4. The post matchup between Thomas and the Gators' Gabby Mills proved one-sided until late in the game. Thomas was nearly unstoppable in the paint.
Couple that with the crisp passing that seemed to get the Gators' heads spinning, and the Wildcats outscored the Gators 15-3 in the second to take a 40-7 lead into halftime. The Gators committed 20 turnovers in the half to the Wildcats' five.
"The more ball movement you have the less the defense moves," Nohra said. "They start to watch until eventually the defense just breaks down."
A running clock in the second half slowed the bleeding for Land O'Lakes but the steals and quick, coast-to-coast baskets, primarily from Leipold, extinguished any hope of a comeback. The Wildcats led 48-11 into the final period.
The Gators, to their credit, made some hustle plays, and Natalia Brooks hit a 3 but the Wildcats kept bagging turnovers. Late in the game it was Santiago picking off passes from the top of the key. All told, the Wildcats forced 31 turnovers.
Leipold led AATL in scoring with 24 points and had four steals. Santiago cooled off from long range, but finished with 13 points, three steals and three boards. Thomas finished with eight points, four steals and two boards.
Mills came on strong for the Gators in the fourth with three boards and a couple steals.