TAMPA — Coming into the Class 6A region final, Jefferson coach Natanya Miller and her squad knew what it would take to beat Sickles for the fourth time this season.
A box-and-one defense on Gryphons guard Bre Crum — who accounts for 42 percent of her team’s total points — was necessary from the opening tip. An end to the Dragons’ bad habit of starting off slow wouldn’t hurt, either.
By following that plan Tuesday, Jefferson was able to withstand a second-half Gryphons run and beat Sickles 53-37 to advance to the region final for the second time in three years.
“Of the four times we played them, this was the toughest time,” said Miller, is in her first season as head coach. “I was very was proud of them; it was a tough game. Bre’s a great player, so it’s always hard.”
Jefferson (20-6) jumped out to a 25-5 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to a 3-of-4 shooting performance from 3-point range and dominant interior play by senior Shayla Wilson, who scored eight of her 12 in the opening period.
When Wilson was forced to the bench because of foul trouble to open the second half, Sickles (20-8) went on a 22-9 run that made the score 43-33 with 3:21 remaining. Wilson scored two quick baskets after a Jefferson timeout to effectively put an end to the Gryphons’ comeback.
Dragons guard Shayla Upshaw played Crum man-to-man throughout. And while Crum did score a game-high 13, that was well below her season average of 21.1, and the only time she failed to crack the 20-point barrier against Jefferson this season. Upshaw was able to generate offense as well and led the Dragons with 12 points.
“Oh, it’s tough,” Upshaw said of guarding Crum, “but I had to put myself in there, work hard and help my team out.”