TAMPA — The last time Jefferson met Sickles, the Dragons pulled out a tight 54-51 win to take sole possession of first place in Class 6A, District 11.
This time, the outcome was never in doubt.
Up by 22 at halftime and as much as 34 in the fourth quarter Friday, Jefferson (13-5, 8-0) all but sealed the regular-season district crown with a 62-40 road win against Sickles.
The difference between the two games?
A new motto, according to first-year coach Natanya Miller: one team, one goal.
“At the beginning of the year, everyone was for themselves, selfish,” Miller said. “We worked hard coming up with that motto.”
Offensively, several players chipped in for the Dragons, with sophomore Toni Cox (13 points), junior T’Niajah Williams (seven), and seniors Chantrell Frazier (nine), Shayla Upshaw (nine) and Shayla Wilson (17) bettering their season averages.
Upshaw and Wilson, who became the first Jefferson player to record 1,000 career points and rebounds, were able to convert several offensive rebounds into second-chance points.
“I’ve gotten smarter,” Wilson said of her rebounding prowess. “The tricks, going around people, spinning, just moving my feet faster to get the ball.”
Jefferson was able to race out and sustain an early lead thanks in part to its plan on defense, which focused almost exclusively on stopping Sickles guard Bre Crum. The senior guard scored a season-high 31 for the Gryphons (14-6, 6-2) last time against the Dragons and came into the contest responsible for nearly 40 percent of her team’s total points.
Crum finished with 21 points — eight after Jefferson subbed out all five starters with 5:15 remaining — but was forced into taking long-range shots all night.
“The first game, we played (Crum) straight-up man,” Miller said. “This game we did a box-and-one and focused on more help defense.”
The strategy allowed Jefferson to send players off the ball down to the offensive side of the floor faster. All Sickles could do was chase behind them.