As the Gatewood Gators started to cut into Westwood’s 11-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter Thursday, head coach Melanie Walls finally felt her team gaining the momentum for the first time in the entire game.
Senior Khady Dieng had scored the first five points of the quarter to cut the Westwood lead to six and then came up with a steal at the other end of the court. As Dieng dribbled down the court, Walls was already thinking about the Westwood lead being down to four. But as Dieng drove to the basket, she lost control of the ball under pressure from Westwood defenders.
Westwood regained its composure and put the Gators away at the free-throw line, taking a 62-43 win in the GISA Class AA semifinals and moving into Saturday’s championship game. The Wildcats made 15-of-16 free throws in the final five minutes and 25-of-27 in the game.
“We lost to a great basketball team, no doubt about that,” said Walls, whose team did not shoot a free throw in the second half and had only six attempts the entire game. “We knew that they would be one of the more athletic teams we have played this year, and it seemed like every time we would start cutting into the lead, they would come right back at us. Khady did everything she could to try keep us in the ballgame, but give Westwood credit. They just stepped up and hit free throws all game long.”
Dieng had 27 points to go with 11 rebounds, but it was not enough against a hard charging Westwood team. The Wildcats led by five at the end of the first quarter and stretched that to 11 at 34-23 at the half behind Rachel Harrell’s 15 first-half points. They upped the lead to 36-23 early in the third quarter, but Gatewood got a basket from Leslie Calvert and four points from Dieng to cut the Westwood lead to seven at 36-29. But the Wildcats quickly answered, as they would all night, by scoring six straight points to take their biggest lead of the game at 42-29.
Gatewood still trailed only 49-41 with 4:50 left in the game after Marlee Malcom hit a 3-pointer, but Westwood went to a delay game and didn’t miss a beat at the free-throw line, as it was able to pull away.
“I know it was one of those games where we made everything at the line, but we were able to keep the ball in Callie Smith and Rachel Harrell’s hands, and they are 78 and 79 percent free throw shooters,” Westwood head coach Jenni Smith said. “We were very excited getting a chance to play here in Macon, and we basically played like we have played all year. This is a very hard working bunch of girls, and it is a thrill to beat a great team like Gatewood."
Harrell led Westwood with 28 points, while Morgan Singleton added 14. Calvert added 10 points for Gatewood, which ends its season at 27-2.