Today’s state semifinal between Mt. Juliet and Blackman will be a contrast in styles.
When the Lady Bears and hometown Lady Blaze tip off at 11:30 a.m. this morning in Murfreesboro, Blackman will try to push the ball while Mt. Juliet will want to slow it down.
“They like to really get it up and down the floor,” Mt. Juliet coach Chris Fryer said of the Lady Blaze. “We like to play halfcourt.”
The disparate styles have worked for each. Blackman is ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today at 32-1. Mt. Juliet isn’t ranked outside the state but is 30-1.
While Mt. Juliet will bring the towering trio of Sally McCabe and twins Raeyana and Ronjanae DeGray, Blackman has big guards [including former Lady Bear MeMe Jackson] and two big post players.
But it’s the diminutive 5-5 sophomore who may be the biggest threat for Blackman. She led the Lady Blaze’s 52-38 quarterfinal win over Houston on Wednesday with 18 points, knocking down 9 of 10 free throws.
“I think Dangerfield is rated the seventh best player in her class,” Fryer said. “She can penetrate with either hand. She can defend, she’s strong, shoots well. She’s a real physical player.
“She’s tremendous. She’s probably the best guard we’ve seen this year and one of the better ones I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching [16 seasons at the high school level].”
Jackson is a 5-10 junior who has committed to play for Tennessee [which would make her the first former Mt. Juliet player to suit up for the Lady Vols] and Micah Norris, the only senior on the roster, is 5-11.
“MeMe and Norris both have long arms,” Fryer said. “They have good size on the perimeter, plus those two inside girls.”
Those inside girls are 6-3 sophomore Jazz Bond and 6-foot junior Alex Johnson. The combination of those two and the quick guards enable Blackman to play just about any style.
“They can pressure you, they can play halfcourt,” Fryer said.
But the Lady Bears have built their brand on a strong halfcourt game.
“It’s going to be very important that we take care of the basketball, that we limit our turnovers,” Fryer said. “We don’t have big guards. We got to be smart, think ahead, be very alert. They change their defenses.
“We got an advantage inside and they have an advantage outside… If our guards do a good job of handling pressure and can get into halfcourt, I’d say we have a good chance. But if we turn the ball over, start trembling, start running up and down the floor, we’ll be in trouble. That scrambling game is just a lure for us. If we fall for it, we’re going to be in trouble.
“We want to lull them to sleep and make them play basketball.”
The crowd figures to be a factor inside Murphy Center as well as Blackman fans only have to travel across town. Mt. Juliet supporters are a county over and came out in mass Wednesday for an easy quarterfinal win over Jefferson County. Today’s winner will meet the Ridgeway-Rossview victor for the state championship at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Fryer said. “It’s an exciting time. It’s why you coach, to get to play in games like this and have a chance to play on Saturday.”