Similarities abound in the Class AA girls state championship game Saturday.
From an aggressive style of play to efficient shooting and successful ball movement, Laney and Rabun County approach the game in similar ways. It even goes beyond the basketball court.
“And both of us have the same name – Wildcats,” Laney coach Otis Smart said with a smile.
The two will meet at 2 p.m. at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta for the state title. Laney is aiming for its second championship in three years. Rabun County has reached the Elite Eight four of the past seven seasons but failed to get over the hump.
The Lady Wildcats’ style of play is known across the state. Their pressure defense and ability to trap and create turnovers has helped them steamroll region and state opponents for years, resulting in seven consecutive semifinal appearances between 2009-15 and a Class AAA title in 2015.
Add ball movement to take advantage of its stable of scorers, and Laney has rolled to a 30-1 mark this season. The Lady Wildcats have won 29 games in a row, all by double digits, and 29 of their 30 wins have come by 10 or more points.
“We’ve talked about that a lot,” Smart said. “When you have a team of this caliber, you have to iron out the go-to person. I teach them that whatever night someone is hot, that’s the one we ride. Everything else will take its place. They distribute the ball real well, passing it on time. They turned my head when they started getting five in double figures.”
De’Sha Benjamin gets much of the attention for All-State and recent Region 4-AA Player of the Year honors. The junior leads the team with 20 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Aubriana Bonner is Laney’s motor. The senior averages 15.1 points and more than three steals per game as a major disruption to opponents’ offenses. Jhessyka Williams, Jaiden Hamilton and Jazmine Bartlett are also key pieces to Laney’s success by helping trap on defense or generate open looks on offense.
“All of us play our game and keep our composure,” Hamilton said. “We play team ball like we’ve been doing all season. The journey hasn’t been easy. Practices have been hard, we did a lot of running, got yelled at a lot. We’re just real confident. We’re ready to play the game and get a win.”
Rabun County has playoff success lately, but this year’s run is different. The team enters 29-2, including 12-1 and a title in Region 8-AA, and Smart believes its girls are hungry for a state championship.
Rabun County doesn’t profile as a tall or lengthy team, but it makes up for size with fundamental basketball by playing pressure defense, trapping to create turnovers and making free throws. The guards are capable of high-scoring nights.
“This should be an exciting game,” Smart said. “They’re fundamentally sound. I’m looking forward to my kids playing well.”
Reach David Lee at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.