Aliyah Collier was too open. She had to shoot.
Yes, Laney had the lead and the ball, and she could have decided to just eat away more seconds by dribbling, passing or simply standing outside the arc. But she chose to shoot – she felt she had to.
Collier made that late 3-point attempt, and it helped ensure the Lady Wildcats would beat Aiken.
The final was 60-55, at home Saturday night in the girls championship game of the Holiday Round Ball Classic. The Lady Wildcats stayed unbeaten, moving to 11-0 with the win.
“I was open, so I shot it,” said Collier, whose 3 pushed it to 57-52. “If I missed it, I would have made up for it.”
Collier had 11 points in the game, with the 3-ball her second clutch make of the fourth quarter. Moments earlier, she got into the lane and threw up a tough shot that somehow went in.
Her 11 points provided some scoring assistance to Khadijiah Cave, who scored 28 points and was seemingly everywhere on the floor. Cave grabbed rebounds and would go out away from the basket to contest – and even block – shots.
Collier’s late scoring surge and Cave’s entire-game success were enough to get by an Aiken team charged by Erin Gilmore and her 19 points. She put up 15 in the second half, when the Lady Hornets (9-3) tried to rally from a deficit that got up to as much as 10.
Aiken wouldn’t go away, closing to within two points twice behind great defensive pressure and some Laney misses at the foul line. But Collier answered both times the Lady Wildcats' advantage was cut to two. She also had earlier helped pad Laney’s total in the third quarter, getting steals in quick succession before Laney finished with layups.
“We’re working on her shooting every day,” Lady Wildcats coach Otis Smart said about Collier. “She’s getting better.”
In the early going, Cave controlled the area around the hoop while Aiken hit three of their five 3-pointers in the first eight minutes.
The teams were tied at 20 after the opening quarter. Laney led by eight at halftime.
“In the end, we were able to prevail,” Smart said. “And I liked the competition – it was close the whole game.”