Westover star guard Achanti Layfield scores two of her 12 points Friday against Burke County in Friday’s Class AAAA state tournament opening round. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Westover High School girls basketball coach Lewis Smith received the official scorebook, looked at his team’s free throw shooting and smiled.
“That’s great,” he said of his team’s 23 of 28 performance from the free throw line, which ultimately helped the Lady Patriots to a 52-36 victory over Burke County in the first round of the Georgia High School Association’s Class AAAA state tournament at Westover’s Boston Garden on Friday night.
After last week’s loss to Monroe in the Region 1-AAAA championship game in which the Lady Patriots shot horribly from the free throw line, Smith pushed the issue at practice this week.
“We practiced hard on that,” said Kayla Howard, who finished with 12 points for Westover. “At the end of the game, it’s going to come down to who’s shooting the best free throws.”
That was obvious on Friday. Westover eliminated Burke County without the benefit of a field goal in the fourth quarter. The Lady Patriots took the Lady Bears’ best shot late, sinking 12 of 14 from the free throw line to hold on.
The Lady Patriots (22-6) advance to meet Region 4-AAAA champion Woodland-Henry, which topped Westside-Macon, 53-41. That game will be in Stockbridge Monday night.
But for now, Smith and his team want to enjoy this one, especially after Burke trimmed Westover’s 18-point third-quarter lead down to 38-32 with 5:05 left.
The Lady Patriots led 38-20 when Achanti Layfield connected on a pair of free throws with 48 seconds left in the third. But Burke went on a 12-0 run to make what appeared to be a runaway victory into a game.
It wasn’t until My’kesa Smith hit two free throws at the 4:05 mark of the fourth quarter that Westover scored its first points of the final quarter, a drought that spanned 4:43.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” Smith said of Burke. “We knew it was coming. In their last game against Richmond Academy, they trailed by 14 going into the fourth quarter before coming back and winning.
“We just had to weather that storm. That meant making free throws and making a defensive play. I was very pleased. We live to fight another day.”
Westover jumped all over Burke County to start. Smith scored the game’s first seven points and helped the Lady Patriots build a 13-4 advantage.
Their best effort came in the third quarter when they opened on a 12-5 run and appeared to take control when Au Bre’ Ana Moore fed two passes inside to Bryshea Jackson, who sank both to make it 34-17.
Westover shot 60 percent (6-of-10) from the floor and 4-of-4 from the free throw line to take control before Burke came charging back.
After the game, My’kesa Smith stressed the importance of Westover’s free throw shooting.
“That’s the best we’ve shot all year,” said Smith, who finished with nine points. “We just had to slow everything down and knock down our shots when we went to the line.”
Layfield added 12 for the Lady Patriots, while Moore and Jackson finished with seven points each.