ST. PETERSBURG — With its spirit-crushing, full-court press grinding down its playoff-opening opponent, with its fluid and unselfish offense effectively getting everybody involved, its hard to believe that Lakewood’s girls haven’t played a lot of games together this season.
But the Spartans have their full 11-player squad together when it counts and are primed for a run in Class 4A, kicking off the drive with a commanding 63-43 victory over Port Orange Atlantic in region quarterfinal play Thursday.
“I think that out of 28 games, we’ve played together maybe six times,” said Lakewood coach Necole Tunsil. “There’s been some injuries, some ailments and some things going on. I feel blessed that we have everybody to finish the season out.”
An overwhelming spirit of community has allowed the Spartans (15-13) to perform well as a team despite a lack of on-court experience.
“What I can tell you is that they love each other genuinely and that they'll do anything for our seniors (Macey Zeh-Arndt and JoShauntye Thomas) to get them to a state championship,” Tunsil said. “They don't have a problem talking on defense, on offense … encouraging each other and lifting each other up.”
And with an athletic junior in Nauvi Williams in the middle of it all, positive results come early and often.
“We work hard for the team every day in practice, making sure we have our conditioning down so we’ll be able to go when we need to,” Williams said.
As the catalyst along with sophomore Makayla Johnson and junior Nilah Coleman at the top of the defense, Williams and the Spartans flummoxed Atlantic (17-9) into 27 turnovers that Lakewood turned into fast-break opportunities.
The best run saw the hosts hold the Sharks without a field goal for an 8 1/2-minute stretch from the second to the end of the third quarter, stretching a seven-point lead to an insurmountable 20-point advantage at 43-23.
For the game, Atlantic was held to just 35 percent shooting from the field (15 of 43) including a 1-for-18 effort behind the 3-point arc.
Showing stellar athleticism and split-second decision-making, Williams (game-high 24 points with nine steals, six rebounds and three assists) made the most of her opportunities.
“I take a lot of pride in my play because I know my team's going to need me,” Williams said.
And when the Spartans had to run its set attack, Coleman (six assists to go with eight points) knew where to go with the ball. Finding Zeh-Arndt (14 points and 10 rebounds) on the low block, setting up Thomas (eight points and three assists) on the perimeter, the junior's work was infectious as Lakewood dropped 18 dimes on the night.
Atlantic got yeoman’s efforts from seniors Dee Small (19 points and 12 rebounds) and Joy Agboola (11 points), but it wasn’t enough to deter the peaking Spartans.
“If we get ready to take on any obstacles, we can move on to the next level,” Williams said. “We can be ready to get our rings, We’re ready to go.”
“Nauvi’s a great player and it’s an honor to coach her,” Tunsil said with a smile. “And her teammates aren’t that bad, either.”
Games at 7 p.m. Tuesday
7A: No. 4 North Port at No. 1 Plant
6A: No. 4 Strawberry Crest at No. 1 Winter Haven
6A: No. 3 St. Cloud at No. 2 Tampa Bay Tech
5A: No. 4 Cape Coral at No. 1 Jefferson
4A: No. 4 Lakewood at No. 1 Cocoa
4A: No. 6 Eustis at No. 2 Wesley Chapel
3A: No. 5 Brooks DeBartolo at No. 1 Carrollwood Day
3A: No. 3 Benjamin at No. 2 Seffner Christian
2A: No. 5 Donahue Catholic at No. 1 Keswick Christian
2A: No. 3 First Baptist at No. 2 Hernando Christian