SAN ANTONIO — Remember the Alamodome? Not a problem.
When Marlin’s girls basketball team first arrived at the site of the UIL state girls basketball tournament, they were mesmerized. Many of the players hadn’t seen a building that big, much less played a game in such a venue.
“For me, I’ve never seen or been on a floor like that,” senior guard Dyneisha Bailey said. “For the first time, it was the excitement.”
Added freshman forward Aniya Williams: “You still have to get used to the floor and stuff, but it was fun.”
Marlin coach Lawrence Gullette knew the sheer size of the arena – as well as the courts and baskets themselves – would require some acclimation. So as his team prepared for its initial shootaround, he told his players, ‘Go soak it all in,’ so that they’d be ready once game time arrived.
And were they ever ready.
Marlin zipped out to a first-quarter lead against Vanderbilt Industrial and never seemed to be in the least bit of trouble in a 59-42 win in the state semifinals on Thursday. That sent the Lady Bulldogs (32-8) on to the Class 3A state championship game, where they’ll face Mount Vernon (27-9) at 10 a.m. Saturday.
“I knew that court would have more bounce, so when we came out for shootaround, I said, ‘Get some shots up, dribble up and down the court, see where the dead spots are, learn the whole floor,’” Gullette said. “I tried to give them the best visual I could. But I tell you what, any time the ball goes up, these girls come ready to play.”
Mount Vernon took out perennial power Brock, 46-37, in the other 3A semifinal. That was no easy task, considering Brock owns 22 state tournament appearances. When Gullette watches Mount Vernon, he sees a well-coached and especially well-balanced team that clearly didn’t make it this far by accident.
Then again, neither did Marlin.
“We want to be true to who we are,” Gullette said. “Win or lose, we want to be who we are, because being us got us this far.”
Gullette would love it if his girls were completely oblivious to the stakes of the game, and just went out and treated it like some normal Tuesday or Friday battle in District 19-3A. He knows that’s unlikely, though. A state title will be on the line, and the Lady Bulldogs know it.
“For me, just trying to keep them loose, it would be great if they didn’t understand how big this is,” Gullette said. “That would be great if they treated it like another game. But everybody knows what it means. Especially with it being early in the morning, they might not be able to sleep, they might get restless. The whole city (of Marlin) will be coming down, so that puts a lot of pressure on it.
“My thing is to try to get off to a fast start, and get as close as possible to just being ourselves.”