MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — As she sat on the bench with victory assured, Simone Smith held up her index finger and looked around to make eye contact with anyone who would see her.
The Laney senior directed her attention to teammates or turned and searched for the cheering fans in the stands, with her one finger signaling her point.
Yes, the semifinal slump is done, but there’s one more to go.
The Laney girls basketball team advanced to the Georgia High School Association Class AA state championship game with a 67-44 win Friday against Kendrick at Georgia College. The Lady Wildcats next head to Macon for a 3 p.m. game against Wesleyan this Friday for a chance to win their first GHSA state title. Wesleyan routed Thomasville 83-34 to reach the final.
“I’m happy, I’m overwhelmed, I’m excited,” Smith said. “This is the team. But there’s one more – then we’ll really celebrate.”
Laney had lost in the state semifinals four years in a row, but Khadijiah Cave wouldn’t let that happen in a matchup between undefeated teams.
Cave had five blocks in the first quarter alone and was often unstoppable on offense. She created opportunities for herself if needed, usually going with a hook, or she received passes from Aliyah Collier and others to get layups. The Baylor signee had 31 points in the game, including 12 in the second quarter as Laney led 35-25 at the half.
Cave’s dominance was highlighted in one play. Late in the game with Laney ahead 63-44, Cave had the ball barely inside the 3-point line when she did a little jump and went with the hook to score.
“They were questioning about Baylor,” Lady Wildcats coach Otis Smart said, with a smile, about any doubters. “But she was awesome. She was awesome. Cave went off.”
The Lady Wildcats (30-0) had some turnover issues, but the defense straigtened up. With Cave, Smith and Collier among those rejecting shots, the Lady Cherokees fell apart near the rim. And when they did get off shots, the threat of the block led to a few wayward shots, including one that went over the backboard.
Earlier in the game, freshman Gemiya Bowman started Laney’s dominance, scoring all eight of her points in the opening period as her team never trailed.
Collier was also her disruptive self near the beginning. She didn’t score until the third quarter, but Collier ended a fast break chance by leaping to knock the ball out of bounds. She forced a five-second call by harassing the inbounder and also got steals and blocks.
Also, when Kendrick did attempt to make it close, Laney always had an answer. Wynetta Wright was the solution at times, ending a 6-0 Lady Cherokees run in the third quarter with back-to-back scores and also putting in Laney’s first basket of the fourth quarter.
Kendrick got 14 points from Kahlia Lawrence, but Laney turned a showdown of unbeatens into a rout.
“I’m just excited,” Cave said. “I can’t describe it.”