Green, Gross team for 50 as HCHS wins
LEXINGTON — Once they finally started to take care of the basketball, the Harlan County Lady Bears were able to show they have one of the best 1-2 punches in Kentucky high school basketball during a matchup of teams favored to win their respective regions on Saturday at the Top Prospect Classic at Henry Clay High School.
Senior guard Blair Green, headed for Kentucky, scored 28 points and senior center Kaylea Gross, who is being recruited by several schools, added 22 points and 13 rebounds as the 3-0 Lady Bears overcame a bad start to knock off 5th Region favorite John Hardin 66-56.
“I think the physicality of Harlan County gave us trouble. They also hurt us on the boards. That was the difference,” John Hardin coach Caleb Smith said. “They got some easy looks and second shots. We got caught out of position a lot the second half. This was a great game for us to learn some things about ourselves.”
“I think it came down to conditioning. I think we wore them down,” Harlan County coach Debbie Green said. “I think our pressure wore them down a little bit. We put Blair at the four going high post and Kaylea going low. It got us back in the game. We also hit some big 3s. This was a good game. It was a good test for us.”
Junior guards K.K. Johnson and Shelby McDaniel each scored seven points and helped Harlan County turn the momentum midway though the third quarter. Up to that point, the Lady Bears had turned the ball over 20 times in the first 20 minutes and trailed by eight before closing the period with a 14-5 run that featured a 3-pointer by McDaniel and a three-point play by Johnson.
“We did not step off the bus ready to play. That was the worst first half we’ve had in a long time,” Green said. “Kaylea picked up two fouls in the first minute, and they were questionable. She did a great job staying in the game the last three quarters, and so did Blair when she picked up her third in the second quarter.”
Gross scored all three Harlan County baskets in the fourth quarter and the Lady Bears hit nine of their last 11 free throws.
“They have good size, and they are aggressive for 32 minutes. That will wear a lot of teams down, and that’s what wore us down,” Smith said. “We weren’t ready for that aggressive style.”
Rayven Peeples, a 6-2 senior center ranked as top player in the 5th Region, scored 21 points to lead John Hardin.
John Hardin’s quickness gave the Harlan County guards trouble from the start as HCHS struggled to run its offense. Brooke Graham hit a pair of 3-pointers and Elona White added three baskets as the Lady Bulldogs grabbed an early lead. HCHS lost Gross only 61 seconds into the game with two quick fouls.
Green had four baskets to lead HCHS and Lainey Cox added the other two as the Lady Bears pulled to within five, at 21-16, going into the second period.
The Harlan County defense improved in the second quarter but offense remained a problem as seven more turnovers in the period helped keep the Lady Bears scoreless for over three minutes. Gross had all three of the HCHS baskets in the second quarter as Harlan County closed to within four before baskets by Peeples and Graham stretched the margin to eight, at 32-24, going into halftime.
Harlan County returns to action Wednesday in the WYMT Mountain Classic at Knott Central High School, taking on the winner of the Paintsville-Knott Central game.
JOHN HARDIN (1-2)
Kayra Freeman 6-9 0-0 12, Elona White 6-12 1-1 14, Brooke Graham 3-9 1-2 9, Alexis Witherspoon 1-2 0-0 2, Rayven Peeples 9-21 2-3 21, Byanca Powell 2-9 0-4 4, Meagan Cain 0-3 0-0 0, Malaysia Reed 0-0 0-0 0, Keyona Curry 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 27-65 4-10 62.
HARLAN COUNTY (3-0)
Phebe McHargue 0-1 0-0 0, K.K. Johnson 2-2 3-5 7, Blair Green 8-22 9-10 28, Lainey Cox 2-3 0-1 4, Kaylea Gross 10-18 1-2 22, Rebecca Middleton 0-1 0-0 0, Breann Turner 0-0 0-0 0, Shelby McDaniel 1-2 4-4 7. Totals: 23-50 17-22 68.
John Hardin 21 11 15 15 — 62
Harlan County 18 8 27 17 — 68
3-point goals: John Hardin 4-13 (Graham 2-7, Peeples 1-1 White 1-3, Cain 0-2), Harlan County 5-14 (Green 3-9, McDaniel 1-1, Gross 1-2, McHargue 0-1, Middleton 0-1). Rebounds: John Hardin 27 (Peeples 6, Powell 6), Harlan County 38 (Gross 13, Green 6, Cox 5, McDaniel 4, Johnson 3, Turner 3, McHargue 2, Middleton 2). Turnovers: John Hardin 15, Harlan County 26. Fouled out: John Hardin (Freeman).