They call the play ’Bama, and it’s easy to understand why.
When you lob it in to the big, Alabama-bound football player and let him throw it down, it just makes sense.
La Vega big man Kedrick James tossed in 20 points, including a rim-rattling, one-handed alley-oop dunk on that set inbounds play early in the third quarter, to help the Pirates take down China Spring, 64-50, in a boys’ basketball renewal of the schools’ longstanding rivalry on Tuesday night at the La Vega Gym.
Only one point separated the teams after both the first and second quarters, as China Spring hung tough with the defending district champion Pirates. The Cougars are blessed with a few Alico-style towers of their own, and that helped them compete with James in the paint.
But in the third quarter, the 6-foot-6 James helped set the tone with that righteous slam dunk off an inbounds play, and he began to establish his presence. He scored 10 points in the quarter as La Vega (12-7 overall, 2-0 in District 17-4A) pushed out to a 46-34 lead.
“They’re big, and I knew they could match up with us,” La Vega coach David Drafahl said. “Usually we have an advantage in that area, but they’re able to match us on every spot on the floor tonight. We just needed to go (inside). Kedrick is a beast, and thank God. He played real tonight.
“You’ve got to go to your strength, and that was it. We went to him early in the game and got away from it in the second quarter, and had to go back to it.”
James yanked down nine rebounds, and showed a soft touch on a couple of jump hooks over the China Spring posts.
“We weren’t played up to our tempo (in the first half),” La Vega’s James said. “We were playing to their tempo, playing slow, sluggish, and it caused some turnovers. They gave us the ball, and we gave it right back to them. (In the third quarter) we just minimized mistakes and took advantage of the opportunities they gave us.”
The Cougars (16-6, 1-1), led by their slick-handling point guard Antwan Stephens, made one last push in the fourth quarter. They used some nifty ball movement to pull to within six at 53-47 with just under five minutes to play, following a post-to-post feed from Tyrick James to Colton Eskew for an inside bucket.
But on the next trip down, La Vega’s James ripped down another board and scored while drawing a foul, pushing the lead back to nine at 56-47. In the final moments, the Pirates were able to run out the clock on yet another district win.
That said, La Vega has even grander aspirations than simply another district title banner.
“Win state,” Kedrick James said. “We got knocked out in the playoffs in football. For me, personally, it’s just to get another ring, to go with that one last year (in football). Trying to get a ring in anything we possibly can. Also, getting a state ring in basketball hasn’t been done since 2000 for boys.
“So we’re trying to break another record, make some school history. All our guys play hard every game, we’re working hard, so we come out with it. State champs ‘17, that has a nice little sound to it.”
Eskew led China Spring with 14 points, and Tyrick James added 10. For La Vega, Amani Gibson contributed 12 points.
La Vega girls 59, China Spring 52
La Vega girls basketball coach Jeff Jefferson admits that his team is still discovering its identity in the post-Juicy era.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt having another Super Centex star around in Ta’Naiya Norwood.
Norwood proved to be a force in the paint, scoring 31 points and snatching 10 rebounds to push the Lady Pirates past the Lady Cougars in a hard-fought District 17-4A battle.
China Spring coach Kristi Mize said the game plan coming into the game was to focus intently on blocking out, and she repeatedly yelled that instruction from the sideline during the game. But keeping Norwood off the glass proved even tougher than expected for the Lady Cougars (10-9, 1-2).
China Spring actually held a 29-28 lead at the half, and the teams stayed neck and neck through the third quarter, as the Lady Pirates (5-11, 2-1) took a 43-42 lead in the final period.
But Norwood’s second-chance tries helped La Vega gain separation down the stretch, and she even showed her shooting range when she nailed a corner 3-pointer to give the Lady Pirates a six-point cushion.
Gabrielle Cleveland made some slick post moves around the basket and led China Spring with 15 points before fouling out with less than a minute left. Alex Perkins added eight points.
Emily Harris helped stretch the floor for La Vega, burying three 3-point bombs for nine points.