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They don't even have to look

O:

Early in the third quarter Monday night, Lakewood's Gylaunda Henderson stripped Clearwater Central Catholic's Diane Jula of the ball.

Henderson, a junior, picked up the ball, started the fastbreak and flipped a bounce pass to the right side of the court _ with no one there.

Suddenly, cutting toward the right wing was Nikia Hayes, who finished the play with an easy layup.

"Sometimes, I can just feel and sense where Nikia is," Henderson said. "I knew she was coming. We play around a lot with that play."

The sequence happened one more time in the quarter. Only the second time, Hayes led the fast break and fed Henderson with a neat bounce pass to the left wing.

Soon, Henderson and Hayes were in a groove, or as they call it, "Diming it."

"We love those dimes," said Hayes, a junior. "Throwing that fancy pass on the dime. Hitting someone at a perfect spot with a neat pass and seeing it work. That's our best change."

Together, the pair of 5-9 forwards are making more than change. They are averaging 14.3 points per game. They have combined for an average of eight steals and 10 assists.

"Nikia and Gylaunda are two players that could easily score 30 points a game if we gave them the freedom," said Lakewood coach Larry West, whose team is ranked No. 4 in the Class 3A state poll. "Right now, we want other things out of them."

Both players also know what they want from each other.

"We have been best friends off the court for years," said Henderson, who has a 3.7 grade point average. "I think that's been a real advantage for us on the court."

Often, the two shift their heads, raise their eyebrows or just nudge their bodies to get one another to respond.

"We understand one another," Hayes said. "We've known one another for so long and we communicate so well on or away from the court that we just have that natural interaction when we play."

That interaction has led to Hayes and Henderson displaying similar habits on the court. The two are identical in their styles. Both players are 5-9, have long arms and quick hands that make them dangerous defenders. Hayes and Henderson, alike, leap well and love to penetrate the lane. More than anything, the two love to finish a fastbreak off with a bank shot or "sweet" pass.

"I think since we've been playing with one another so long we've picked up on each other's style of play," Henderson said. "We can find one another easily because of that closeness."

That affinity has also helped them accept one another's mistakes.

"Being close friends makes it eaiser to reprimand one another for lousy plays," Henderson said. "Sometimes we both get out of control and it takes one of us to yell at the other one."

Midway through the third quarter, Henderson threw a pass to Hayes between two defenders. Hayes missed the layup, came near the sidelines toward Henderson and hollered, "That's loose change. I'll make up for it."

Nice Touch: Countryside's junior guard Dawn Jenkins had hit at least one three-pointer in 13 straight games before the Cougars' game against Pinellas Park last week. Countryside, ranked No. 3 in the Class 4A state poll, plays Gibbs Thursday night in its last regular-season game. The Cougars are currently 22-0.

No time like Prime Time: St. Petersburg Catholic has won seven straight and raised its record to 20-4. The Barons, ranked No. 6 in the Class A state poll, have lost only to Bradenton Christian in regular play. Their other three losses were in tournaments.

"We are playing well at the right time," SPC coach Gary Preston said. "This is the time to be playing well." Districts for girls basketball start on Feb. 20.

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