Today’s Georgia class 5A semifinals opener at Columbus State University features the teacher vs pupil when Southwest Dekalb faces Flowery Branch. Southwest Dekalb head coach Kathleen Richey-Walton coached Flowery Branch head coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez for two years on the travel ball circuit while Newton-Gonzalez played at Flowery Branch. Newton-Gonzalez went on to play at South Carolina and was the head coach at Lexington (SC) before coming home to coach her alma mater last season.
“I enjoyed coaching her,” Richey-Walton said. “She was a good hard-nosed player, she had a good career in college and is doing a good job as a coach. I’m sure I’ll learn something from her.”
Big words coming from Richey-Walton who was honored more for her lacrosse skills in her native Ohio than basketball, however her basketball coaching is what comes to mind first in Georgia. Richey-Walton is also the head coach of the Southwest Deklab Lady Panthers’ lacrosse team.
Southwest Dekalb (26-4) has won five state championships and are in the semifinals for the eighth time in ten years under Richey-Walton. Four-year starter Jada Walton (Texas A&M) is the leader for the Lady Panthers. Walton, a southpaw, is averaging 13.4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals this season. Ogheneruona Uwusiaba (Central Florida)-Nigerian descent, is her third year of playing organized basketball and is the anchor in the post. Uwusiaba is averaging 11.5 points and leads the team in rebounding at 8.4 per game. Chantz Cherry (Stoney Brook) engineers the offense with her unselfish play, good defense and vision. “She’s a point guard that just does not turn the ball over,” Richey-Walton noted about Cherry.
“The team is focused, they have not been too high or too low,” Richey-Walton said. “We want to execute and be efficient on offense and on defense, we slipped a little bit against Eagles Landings so were working on being tighter and dealing with (Flowery Branch) attack and uptempo play.”
Newton-Gonzalez has Flowery Branch (24-6) in the semifinals for the first time in school history. The Lady Falcons’ uptempo offense is powered scoring-wise by Taniyah Worth, Julianne Sutton and Lexie Sengkhammee. Worth has improved on her 15.2 point per game average in the state tournament to 17.2 points per game. Sutton (North Georgia) puts in 10.1 point per game and cleans the glass fora team-tying high of 7.8 per game. Sengkhammee is the engineer of the offense and shots the three-ball at at 39 percent clip.
The defense is where Flowery Branch hangs its hat. Through three state tournament games the Lady Falcons pressure defense is allowing an average of 38 points per game in victories over North Springs, Statesboro and Carrollton.
“We take pride in our pressure defense and we’ve done a good job throughout the season,” Newton-Gonzales said. “We went out and scheduled tougher teams this season and that has helped us down the stretch. Southwest Dekalb is good and this team is ready for the challenge.”
Flowery Branch’s schedule included non-Georgia teams Bradley Central (TN), Spring Garden (AL) and McMinn Central (TN) in addition to state foes Winder-Barrow (2-1 in three meetings), West Hall and region foe Buford (0-3 in three meetings).
Senghammee set the single season record for three-pointers made and hit six three-pointers in three games this season. Queen Scott is described by Newton-Gonzalez as the ultimate role player, defensive specialist and routinely guards the opposing teams best player. Caroline Wysocki, Ashley Woodroffe and Janoah Williams also play key roles for the Lady Falcons.
“Were excited about were the program is going,” Newton-Gonzales said.
The other semifinal game pits top-ranked Griffin against second-ranked Buford. Griffin enters the contest with a 28-1 mark, the lone loss coming to Columbia which snapped a 20-game winning streak. Griffin is in the semifinals for the first time since 1998 and third time in school history.
The Lady Bears are led by seniors Andeija Puckett (Cincinnati) and TyLeslie Happy Johnson. Puckett is the region 3-5A Player Of The Year and is averaging a double-double with 17.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Johnson is puts in 7.7 points and grabs 6.1 rebounds per game. Sophomore Daisya Reid controls the offense while scoring 9.7 points per game to go witha 1-to-1 assist to turnover ratio.
Buford is highlighted by the heavily recruited Tory Ozment. Ozment leads the Lady Wolves in scoring at 13.4 point per game and shoots 43 percent from downtown. Audrey averages 10 points per game and snatches almost three boards a game. Marissa Bruce is an experienced player that chips in 9.4 points per game, 3.1 rebounds and brings plenty of energy on both ends of the floor. Jessica Nelson comes off the bench however leads the Lady Wolves in rebounding at 5.4 per game.
The Lady Wolves only in-state loss were to class 1A Private’s St. Francis and Wesleyan. Buford is in pursuit of it’s fifth state championship.
The table is set and the plot will begin to unfold as the it boils down to the newcomers against the established. All four squads can either add to their history or make history themselves. No question who advances to the finals next week at the University of Georgia it will be earned and not given.