Darton's Iesha Bonner pulls down a rebound Wednesday against Atlanta Metro. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — It’s all starting to come back for the Lady Cavs.
The defense, the swagger, the winning.
Wednesday night’s crowd even looked like a snapshot from last year’s 30-win season when the campus and community packed into Cavalier Arena to witness the Darton women’s basketball team make a run to the NJCAA national tournament.
All of a sudden, 2014 is starting to feel a little special, too.
Darton won for the seventh time in its last eight games Wednesday with a 68-53 victory against Region XVII rival Atlanta Metro — the same team that the Lady Cavs barely beat by three points back on Nov. 20.
A lot has changed in the last two months.
“We have more energy, and it feels like now we are starting off games strong and finishing them strong,” said Darton sophomore and former Lee County star DaQuenna Moore, who led the Lady Cavs with 20 points and 15 rebounds. “Everybody is playing together now. We have a connection with each other now and are working together.”
The pieces are starting to fall together for a Darton team that started the year ranked 10th in the country but slipped out of the Top 25 poll after the opening month of the season.
They looked worthy of a national ranking on Wednesday — and Darton coach Lea Henry didn’t need to think long when asked what the difference was between her team now and her team back on Nov. 20 when it first played Atlanta Metro.
“Jasmine. That’s it,” said Henry, referring to sophomore guard Jasmine Wilson, who was ineligible for the first half of the season but has led the Cavs to six wins in seven games since returning to the lineup. “She really makes us go. She hits big shots. Gets steals when we need them. Our tempo is so much better with her on the floor.”
Wilson was among the leaders in nearly every statistical category again Wednesday, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals.
She knocked down a 3-pointer with 9:20 left in the game to put Darton ahead 51-29 — its largest lead of the game — and scored 12 points in a span of eight minutes midway through the second half to help the Lady Cavs put the game away.
Atlanta Metro coach Christian Anderson agreed that Wilson is the main reason the Lady Cavs are starting to peak in the final month of the regular season.
“She makes all the difference,” Anderson said. “Without her, they are half as good. … Darton is a very good team and much-improved. It’s a great team, but (Wilson) is the key component for them. They should go far with her.”
Of course it was more than just Wilson who stood out Wednesday for the Lady Cavs, who jumped ahead 6-0 and never trailed.
Shanae Armbrister nearly had a triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, and Iesha Bonner finished with four points and 10 rebounds. Moore, the star of the game, was 8-for-15 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the free throw line, with 10 of her rebounds coming on the offensive side.
“DaQuenna has come on strong and has been very consistent,” Henry said. “It’s unbelievable how much better offensively she is (compared to earlier in the season). She has rebounded and defended all year, but she has really worked hard and become a really good low-post player. Every time you look at the stats, she has a double-double.”
Darton’s first five field goals were from five different players as the Lady Cavs built an early lead, but Atlanta Metro hung around and cut it to a five-point deficit with 2:20 left in the half. However, Moore scored back-to-back field goals in the closing two minutes of the half to give Darton a 29-20 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Darton immediately jumped ahead by 11, but the lead dipped into single digits twice before the Lady Cavs went on a 16-5 run to put the game out of reach.
With the win, Darton (16-6, 7-4) stayed in fourth place in the Region XVII standings but can jump third-place Central Georgia Tech with a win against the Lady Titans on Saturday afternoon.
“We are pleased with where we are right now, but we don’t want to relax,” Henry said. “We have an upside. We are peaking and playing harder and playing better, but we still have an upside. We want to be our best tournament time.”
CENTRAL GEORGIA TECH WOMEN 62, ALBANY TECH 45: With star point guard Quiondra Darrisaw out of the lineup with a high ankle sprain, Albany Tech couldn’t take advantage of an opportunity Wednesday to pick up a key Region XVII victory.
At 5-5 in the region, the Lady Titans are now sitting alone in fifth place.
Toni Grier led Albany Tech with 12 points and nine rebounds, but the Lady Titans couldn’t match up against a Central Georgia Tech team that has now won four of its last five games.
“They were more physical than we were, and we didn’t meet the challenge. That’s what it boiled down to,” Albany Tech coach Kenneth Williams said.
Albany Tech, which is 10-8 overall, plays again Saturday at home against Georgia Perimeter.