LAND O’LAKES — All night long, Academy at the Lakes couldn’t make a 3, couldn’t convert a layup and couldn’t make a jumper, which may have been disconcerting if the gap on the scoreboard between the Wildcats and Winter Gardens Foundation hadn’t kept growing.
Who needs offense, though, when you have the kind of defense the Wildcats played in Saturday’s Class 2A region final?
Behind 26 steals and a stupendous all-around performance by senior guard Samantha Fernandez, AATL won 64-28 to advance to Tuesday’s state semifinals.
For coach Karim Nohra, it will be his first time at state after taking four previous teams to seven different region finals.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more than Coach,” forward Andrea Mauger said.
The Wildcats (18-6) danced circles around the Lions, despite shooting 4-for-30 from 3-point range and not making a field goal in the first four minutes. But a steal and layup by Fernandez near the end of the first quarter kick-started an 18-2 run.
Leading 31-22 late in the first half, the Wildcats outscored the Lions 33-6 the rest of the way, including holding Foundation scoreless for 13 straight minutes in the second half.
AATL nullified the Lions’ leading scorer, Halee Davis (more than 30 ppg in the playoffs but just one basket Saturday night), and when Davis got in foul trouble Foundation (9-11) withered under full-court pressure.
Fernandez played the best game of her high school career, finishing with 17 points, 13 steals, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
Vanessa Vincent had 14 points and 14 rebounds for AATL.