A return inside the Fort Smith city limits seemed to invigorate the Northside Lady Bears on Thursday.
The Lady Bears, who dropped three straight games at a tournament last weekend in Paragould, bounced back in the opening round of the 20th annual Jerry and Sandy Wagner Tournament of Champions. Northside jumped out to an 11-2 lead and went on to a 49-28 win against Huntsville (Ala.) Lee at Southside Gym.
However, the Lady Bears still had problems scoring at times. Northside was held to 43 percent shooting from the field (20-of-47) and made just one 3-pointer. The Lady Bears also made just eight of their 26 attempts at the free-throw line.
"I'm proud of our kids' effort and I'm proud of our defense, but as anyone can see, our offensive chemistry is not there," Northside coach Rickey Smith said. "Also, our free throws, our confidence offensively is a little rattled and you can just see that we're just pressing, so it's going to take a lot of reps and a lot of practice and that's not what we've been able to have.
"We're behind and I knew we would be behind, and there's not anything we can do about it except just keep working and try to stay positive."
Northside (3-3) advances to today's semifinal round at 7 p.m., and will play against the winner of the opening-round game between Tulsa East Central and Van Buren, which was played late Thursday.
The Lady Bears opened the season by winning their first two games, both at Northside, before going to Paragould and falling in all three games at the Greene County Tech Invitational last weekend.
But Northside had relatively little trouble on Thursday. The Lady Bears got the lead for good early on after Maegan Bandimere hit a 3-pointer to start a 9-0 run, giving Northside its 11-2 advantage. Bandimere's 3 was the lone shot from beyond the arc for the Lady Bears.
Northside, though, continued to build on its lead. The Lady Bears went up 19-5 early in the second quarter and then reeled off 11 straight points in the third as the lead grew to 25 points, 37-12.
Senior Topazia Hawkins had 14 points for Northside, while junior Aniya Webster added 12. The two also combined to score 13 of the Lady Bears' 19 third-quarter points.
"The kids will give you a great effort and play hard defense, we can build off that," Smith said. "But we've got to play a lot better than that offensively to have any more success in this tournament."
LaSeana Ogunnaike had nine points on three 3's for Lee, which drops into the consolation round and will play at 4 p.m. against the Van Buren-Tulsa East Central loser. Northside's defense held Lee to 9-of-34 shooting from the field (26.5 percent), with six of those made field goals 3-pointers.
High School Basketball
Tournament of Champions
Northside 49, Huntsville Lee 28
Lee 5 6 5 12 - 28
Northside 14 10 19 6 - 49
Huntsville Lee: Ogunnaike 9, Horton 7, Te. Davis 3, Barclay 3, Ta. Davis 2, Straughter 2, Langham 2.
Northside: Hawkins 14, Webster 12, Carey 6, Kinnard 6, Mays 4, Bandimere 3, Smith 2, Evans 2.