Dec 27, 2013
Following his team's 55-49 loss to West Craven in the opening round of the Mix 101.5 Girls Bracket, Cary head coach Patrick Daly said he knew the HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational field would provide "measuring stick" games for his Lady Imps.
Cary found itself in another of those games Friday morning, and the Lady Imps used a dominant effort by senior center Azura Stevens to grind out a 61-58 win over Durham Hillside, one of the better women's programs in the state in recent years.
"We showed a lot of grit and toughness today. Hopefully we can take this win and build upon it," Daly said. "This tournament is a playoff atmosphere, and that is how we're looking at it. We're trying to get better for late February and March."
With the win, Cary advances to Saturday's fifth place game, which tips at 11:30 a.m. at Cary Academy. The Imps will play the Dudley-Riverside winner.
Stevens, a Duke signee, was in playoff form for the second straight day. She helped break Hillside's full court press, went to the free throw line constantly and dominated inside, finishing with 36 points and 27 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.
The effort on the glass set a new single-game tournament record, breaking a mark set by Bunn's Nikisha Stewart in 2004. Through two games, Stevens has 51 total rebounds, one shy of the tournament record held by Cary Christian's Dakota Dukes (2010).
Afterward, the future Atlantic Coast Conference player deflected any attention put on her impressive stat line.
"It was a team win, and I try to help my teammates however I can," Stevens said. "If my shot is not on, rebounding is a way I can help my team win."
After falling behind by four in the third quarter, Cary finished the frame with a 10-1 run to take a 42-37 lead into the final eight minutes. Cary's lead would grow to as nine points in the final quarter, but Hillside's Tykyrah Williams' back-to-back three-pointers helped Hillside close the gap in the final minute.
Stevens' 27th rebound, which came in the final 5 seconds, helped secure the victory after Hillside pulled to within one point with less than 30 seconds to play.
Hillside head coach Ovester Grays said Steven's presence inside completely changed the game.
"She's an outstanding player and talent, and any time you have a kid with those talents at 6-foot-5, it changes the game," he said. "She handles the ball for them, she shoots outside, she's quick and she's hard to box out."
After his team's opening round loss to Chapel Hill, Grays didn't mince words about what his Hornets needed to do in the final two games of the tournament.
Put simply, Hillside had to quit making unforced errors and play better as a team. The Hornets were better on Friday, Grays said, but not good enough to get a victory. Williams finished with 13 points, and Justine Lyon tallied 16.
"We talked about communication, playing together, especially on the defensive end of the court. I saw some improvements there," he said. "We still have a lot of work to do. We weren't consistent enough, but we were better."
Hillside will finish the 2013 tourney in the seventh place game on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Cary Academy. The Hornets will face the Dudley-Riverside loser.
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