NEW TAMPA — Wharton's standout freshman Shayla Cooper wasn't surprised that her Wildcats beat Freedom on Friday night. "Not at all."
How easy your team made it look?
The margin — 22 points?
Cooper was a force all over the court, and the Patriots never figured out a way to slow her down, much less get started themselves, as the Wildcats rolled to an unneighborly 65-43 win over the hosts.
The Wildcats (18-4) won their sixth straight, while Freedom fell to 18-5.
The 6-foot Cooper created huge matchup problems when she played the point (going against Freedom's 5-4 Kaitlynn Pacholke), and when she went down low, where Freedom doesn't have a player taller than 5-9.
She finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, but also had a handful of assists and blocked shots.
The Wildcats capitalized on a bevy of Freedom turnovers to jump ahead early. Once fellow freshman Tesha Hanson (19 points) stretched the early Wharton advantage into double figures at 24-13, it was there for good.
Freedom couldn't shoot its way back into the game as Wharton's defense swarmed its way to a 38-24 lead at the half.
"They are good shooters, and we knew they were going to come out and if they had the opportunity they were going to make them. So we emphasized getting our hands up and challenging," said Wharton coach Chad Reed. "When you do that, you're going to get those tips and get those hustle plays."
The Patriots, led by Shaunice Hobbs' 16 points and 15 from Pacholke, showed some life to start the third quarter, making the first two baskets and had two chances to cut the lead to single digits. But consecutive turnovers led to baskets by Shawnice Wiggins and Cooper, sparking a 10-2 run that sealed the victory.