TAMPA — Sickles All-America junior Amber Henson surprised even herself Friday night.
Told she had just scored a season-high 32 in an important 81-53 district win over Freedom, her eyes opened wide and her jaw dropped.
Maybe because she made it look that easy.
The 6-foot-4 center, rated the fourth-best junior player in the nation by ESPN, lived up to her hype, scoring 13 of her 32 during a third quarter that saw the Gryphons run out to a 17-4 run to open the second half.
Henson dominated the boards against the smaller Patriots, who have only one player taller than 5-9, with 15 rebounds, including six offensive — most of which led to easy putbacks.
“We were able to get her in some space and get her to cut and do some things,” Sickles coach Mark Key said. “She had a great game. They’re a good scrappy team, they’re well-coached, but I felt they didn’t have a matchup for her.”
In a game that featured the top two teams in Class 5A-9, the Gryphons (18-2, 10-0) clinched the top seed in the district tournament, all while soundly proving that the district title will have to go through Sickles.
“They gave us a real tough time the last time,” Henson said of Sickles’ eight-point win in the first meeting between the teams. “We really needed to fight hard to win. But this time, we knew we might see them again in the district finals, so we knew we had to set the tone so the next time we play them they know what to expect.”
Freedom (17-3, 9-2) trailed by 14 at the half then managed just two points for the first 5:30 of the second half. Henson had 11 points in that span.
“They definitely outplayed us tonight,” Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke said. “If this doesn’t light a fire under our butts, then we need a gut check. We’re going to see what we’re made of.”
Shaunice Hobbs led Freedom with 20 points and Shade Williams added 18.
Henson also had plenty of help. Three other Gryphons — Rachel Smith (12), Bre Crum (11) and Erica Early (10) — scored in double figures.