Baylor's Kaleigh Clemons may be a high school sophomore, but she already knows that offense sells tickets. And Chattanooga State's gymnasium was packed out for the Times Free Press Best of Preps basketball tournament finals Saturday.
She also already knows defense wins games, and the combination of the Lady Red Raiders' defense against GPS and her 21-point performance were too much for the Bruisers as Baylor came away with a 45-36 victory.
The tournament championship is the second in as many years for Baylor (10-6).
"We made enough plays," Lady Raiders coach John Gibson said. "This was our 10th game in 20 days, and we've only had three practices in that time. With our youth, it's kind of hard to make the adjustments. It was a game of spurts. We just had one more spurt and found a way to win ugly."
It's also the second consecutive year the most-valuable-player trophy went to Clemons, although she said this one was sweeter than last year's win over Cleveland.
"They're our rival," Clemons said of the Bruisers. "I have a lot of respect for them, but it made it nicer that we came out on top against them."
The Lady Raiders never trailed and led by 10 points on three occasions in the first half. Their largest lead was 27-15 after Abby Hubert's three-point play with 6:42 to go in the third quarter.
"We put an emphasis on defense," Clemons said. "Defense is what won this game. Once you get up, you don't have to score."
Baylor attempted to protect its lead, but GPS mounted a comeback and got within 36-34 when Akia Harris made a steal at midcourt and ended up making a fadeaway jumper in the lane. But Baylor answered with back-to-back driving layups by Clemons.
"She made a couple of plays down the stretch," Gibson said of his point guard. "The floor was stretched, she saw they weren't set and drove it in there. We were up two and then went back up six. That was big."
After the Bruisers' Reagan Williams made a basket in the lane but failed to complete the three-point play, the remaining scoring in the game was 5-of-7 free-throw shooting by the Lady Raiders. In between, on the other end, were mostly missed 3-point shots by GPS (12-2).
"Baylor did a good job of going back and forth between man and zone," coach Jennifer Williams said. "They played intense defense, so it didn't matter which one they were in. It was hard to get a shot off."
Hubert supported Clemons with 10 points. Harris paced the Bruisers with 15.
The teams play again Jan. 16 at GPS in the first of two Division II-AA East/Middle Region games.
"What matters are the region games," Coach Williams said. "It was a good learning experience for us. We'll take tonight, learn from it and hopefully we'll be on the winning side next time."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or email@example.com.