TAMPA — It was as if Freedom's first basket — a perfectly executed pass from Taylor Emery to Bianca Igwe for a layup — foreshadowed what was to come Friday in the Patriots' home game against Sickles.
But how could the Gryphons know that the pair, who starting playing together in seventh grade for AAU team Tampa Bay Inferno, would wreak such havoc in the Class 7, District 8 rematch?
Igwe and Emery combined for 41 points as the Patriots won 56-47, avenging their Dec. 9 loss to the Gryphons.
They're different players. Igwe, a 6-foot forward, spent Friday night attacking the boards, altering shots, and scoring 13 points. Emery, a guard who averages more than 26 points a game, is tough to stop when she drives to the basket.
With both on the court, the Patriots (16-3, 4-3) are hard to beat.
"It's kind of like a ying and yang kind of thing," Igwe said, smiling.
The Patriots dominated the first half and went into the break with a nine-point lead. But in the second half Freedom had seven costly turnovers, and the Gryphons got within three with just more than four minutes to go.
As Sickles (16-5, 3-4) worked its way back into a game it had trailed since the start, Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke pulled Igwe aside.
"I said, 'Where's your head? You're not doing what you can do for us.' And she responded," Pacholke said. "She can step up, she can guard a big, she can guard a guard. When she gets mad, she's pretty dang tough."
With less than three minutes to go, Sickles trailing by four, Igwe grabbed a big offensive rebound and was fouled going up for a shot. She made one free throw, and Emery followed with six points in the final minute and a half.
Freedom earned its second district victory of the week, having won 61-44 Wednesday at Wiregrass Ranch. Pacholke said the Patriots are on their way to playing their best basketball of the season, and with the district tournament near, there's no better time.
The Patriots compete in a tough district. Wiregrass Ranch, Steinbrenner, Sickles and Freedom have a combined record of 72-13. But Igwe feels good about her team's chances at a district title. And she only has to look beside her to see the source of her confidence.
"I know where Taylor's going to be, she knows where I'm going to be. I know where she's going to post up, she knows where I'm going to drive," Igwe said. "It's lot of fun when we get going. It's like no one can stop us."